‘It’s an endless cycle,’ Jewish students at Brandeis reflect on Kanye West’s antisemitism

WALTHAM – Nestled in Waltham is a university unique in its rich Jewish history, and understandably, its Jewish students are rattled by recent public antisemitism by rapper Kanye West, now known as “Ye.”

“This university is a direct result of Jews’ exclusion from other elite universities in the first half of the 20th century, so we are actually literally standing on the ground of positive reaction to American antisemitism,” junior Meshulam Ungar told WBZ.

To reflect on Ye’s comments and the apparent rise in antisemitism, WBZ-TV convened a small panel of Jewish Brandeis students to reflect.

Watch:  Web Extra: Brandeis students on Kanye West’s antisemitism

“Sadly, I’m not very surprised,” said student Michael Schwartz. “This isn’t a thing that has been going on for just a few days or a few weeks or a few years. This is a millennia-old problem of Jew hatred…I think the most sad part about what’s going on in the last few days and weeks is that it took a really famous celebrity to say something for people to finally pay attention.”

The students are frustrated by the media cycle surrounding antisemitism. “It happens to be a spike this week and then I’m sure people will forget about it next week and then it’ll happen again,” student Maya Stiefel explained. “It’s an endless cycle.”

Part of the reason WBZ spoke with students is because of their age: the age for which Kanye West music is popular.

“I listen to Kanye West frequently,” Schwartz said, explaining that West’s music is often in his most-listened-to Spotify roundup. “In recent days I’ve been driving in my car and Kanye West will come on and I just don’t feel so comfortable listening to that music [right now],” he explained.

“Every time you accidentally listen to his song or even purposely listen to his song, you are supporting him in a monetary sense,” senior Oona Wood added.

Junior Maya Stiefel said it’s been a popular conversation among friends and family. “What do you do now if this music comes on and how do you move on with your life when he is such an important member of pop culture?”

The students say they’re frustrated as well because whenever Jewish people are in the spotlight, it’s typically because of antisemitism. “Antisemitism is sort of a canary in the coal mine,” student Meshulam Ungar explained. “When you see antisemitism in a society, you know that other hate is growing and [society is] otherwise deteriorating.”

In recent months, white nationalist groups have left advertisements in Massachusetts’ driveways. People hung antisemitic banners over highways over the summer.

With public, blatant antisemitism on the rise, do these students feel safe? “At Brandeis I feel safe,” Ungar explained. “But if I go to New York City, or I go to Washington DC…I always know in the back of my mind that by wearing a kippah, someone could yell at me or do worse, and it’s happened before.”

“In studying Jewish history, it always starts with sly little comments and people’s opinions and then moves quickly to greater antisemitism and then nationalist antisemitism,” Stiefel explained.

“So, if I could speak directly to Kanye West, I would say that the American Jewish community is ready and willing to engage with you and to explain what makes Jewish culture and history so vibrant, and why your comments are so offensive to us,” Ungar said.

So, what can be done? The students don’t pretend to have all the answers, but they have ideas. The first: don’t forget. Antisemitism is always happening, even if it’s not out of celebrities’ mouths. The second: in diversity efforts, remember to include Jewish people. Third: engage in conversation and learn. And finally: remember the positive.

“Jews have a very vibrant culture, and cultures, really,” Schwartz said. “We have a lot of great things to offer…we have really delicious foods and really nice sounding songs. We are not just a people that for 3,000 years have been killed.” 

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