“We’re Not Going Anywhere”: Jewish Chabad Students Celebrate Passover with Increased Security Measures

Columbia-Barnard Jewish communities continue to hold seders and events with extra security guards to keep students safe after reports of anti-semitism around campus. Others return home or celebrate in the Palestinian solidarity encampment.

On Sunday, April 21st, Rabbi Elie Buechler, Director of the Orthodox Union-Jewish Learning Initiative on campus, wrote that Jewish students should “return home as soon as possible and remain home until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved,” in a group chat with over 290 students.

As the pro-Palestinian encampment on the Columbia lawns enters its ninth day in operation, the Jewish holiday of Passover approaches its fourth day. Chabad Columbia, a Jewish community for students, continues to hold seders and services yet with increased security measures, given reports of rising antisemitic incidents surrounding campus, such as protestors outside of Columbia gates chanting “Go back to Poland” at Jewish students.

Following Buechler’s statement, on Monday Columbia Chabad hired security guards to chaperone students from the Chabad house to their dorm rooms with worries about antisemitic incidents occurring on and around campus. In addition, Bond Personal Security, an app where students can have a security professional on the phone as they walk around campus, was recommended to students for an extra layer of safety.

“After a seder at Chabad, a security guard asked if he wanted to walk us home but I was in a group so it was fine,” Margot Levy (BC ‘24) said. “I get if you were alone you would want to walk with someone.”

Levy left Columbia’s campus after her afternoon class on Thursday, April 18th, and returned to Barnard on Tuesday for work. She was already planning on going home for Passover, yet chose to spend additional time downtown and off-campus as much as she could.

“It seems pretty chill at Barnard,” Levy said on returning to campus. “The antisemitic incidents have been mostly outside of campus whereas the [protests] inside have been mostly peaceful. I’ve been walking outside with my Star of David necklace and I haven’t been fearing for my physical safety.” 

Sophie Kasson (BC/JTS ‘27) returned home to New Jersey for Passover for a few days and purposefully did not cross over onto Columbia’s campus upon returning to New York. As a freshman living in the quad, she says she cannot escape the daily chants of protestors.

“I know students have gotten liquids thrown at them and people have gotten beaten up, pinned to walls, and kicked [outside of Columbia’s gates]; I haven’t encountered anything myself, but I’ve been nervous for my physical well-being,” Kasson said. 

Some Jewish students in Columbia-Barnard Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) were evicted and suspended on Thursday, April 18th for participating in the encampment, and are therefore no longer allowed to celebrate in on-campus Passover celebrations. Other JVP members who were not suspended held seders in the encampment this week. 

In a statement on Monday, JVP called on the Columbia and Barnard administrations to “issue an immediate amnesty to all suspended and expelled students, to adhere to their demands for divestment from the Israeli government’s genocide, and to protect all students, including ensuring that Jewish students can safely practice all aspects of their Judaism in community on campus.”

On the first night of Passover, Spencer Davis (JTS ‘27) celebrated at his family friends’ house in Brooklyn instead of celebrating on campus after his mother raised worries for his safety on campus. On the second night, he celebrated at Columbia Hillel, another community for Jewish students on campus. 

“I don’t personally feel like I’m unsafe going and celebrating in these spaces, but I understand that a lot of parents feel unsafe with their kids going there,” Davis said. “I feel uncomfortable but not unsafe because I don’t appear Jewish, but being around where those incidents of antisemitism happened is super uncomfortable.”

On Monday, Columbia and Barnard both chose to hold remote classes. On Tuesday, Columbia offered hybrid classes while Barnard returned to in-person classes for the rest of the semester. On Thursday, both schools announced that instructors must provide students with a remote final exam option if requested.  

“I agree with the choices to make remote options available to students if they don’t feel comfortable [in-person],” Kasson said. “It was just very disheartening to see the whole campus become so divided. I’m seeing this issue get more and more polarizing where people on either side won’t admit any faults within their side of their argument, and it’s causing a lot more unnecessary tension than needed.”

Rabbi Yuda Drizin, director of Columbia Chabad, and his wife Naomi Drizin have been a source of support for many Jewish students over the past week. After pro-Israeli student demonstrators were met with an agitator holding a sign reading “Al-Qasam’s Next Targets” on Saturday night, Drizin got dressed and went to campus to ensure the Jewish students’ safety.

Despite the message from Buechler and the growing tensions around campus, many Jewish Chabad students are resolved to stay on campus. 

“We want to reiterate that we are here now and here to stay,” Chabad said in an Instagram post on Monday. “It is our life mission to support the Jewish students at Columbia University and we’re not going anywhere.”

“I don’t want to go home. I feel like that’s kind of giving some of these protestors what they want if every Jewish or Zionist student just packs up and leaves,” Kasson said. “So even though it’s a lot to take in, I’m choosing to stay.”