Stories collected by Makeda Viechweg
Below is a collection of stories from some members of the Muslim and Jewish communities at CCNY. The Campus has chosen to display their words directly; for their stories are their own and their words display experiences communicable in inherently individualistic ways.
If you or others you know have experienced similar experiences on or off campus, please reach out to this publication for more information on resources available to fight against discrimination. Here at The Campus we believe that no student should feel unsafe.
Hillel member Shoshana, speaks on several incidents that happened to her while she was alone, and also with friends. She gives two accounts of anti-Semitic slurs and physical attacks that happened a month apart from each other.
“I was on my way home on the 96th street platform with a bunch of guys and there was this creepy guy walking back and forth. Then I saw him mumbling something and I realized he was staring at me for a long time. So I heard him mumbling “you f**king k***. You slut. The Germans should’ve finished you off.” I’m not the type of person that lets things slide, I get aggressive. So at first I’m like ‘what the f**k you just say?’ but then I realized he is a crazy person. He was holding a doll in his hands and rubbing it all creepy. The guys I was with got really upset but I told them not to bother. I wasn’t scared…kind of just shrugged it off.”
“On Labor day, I was on the 1 train on my way home. There was this guy with no shirt, with a big bag on his back, on the train complaining to himself. He started arguments with people on the train too. But I asked him if he wants some water. He says ‘yes, thank you.’ And I pour some water for him in his canteen. He started talking to me and he was enjoying the conversation. When it came to my stop, he followed me off the train. We were on 96th street when it happened. He asked me if I want him to come home with me and I said no. I noticed a crescent moon and star tattoo on his arm so I asked if he was Muslim and he said ‘yes, are you afraid?’ I told him no. I have no negative feelings towards Muslims. He asked if I was Jewish and I said yes and he’s like ‘oh no wonder you’re so nice.’ As the train was pulling in the station, he yanked my ponytail and yells, ‘She’s Jewish! She’s Jewish! It’s a wig it’s not her real hair!’ I just quickly got on the train. I feel like only crazy people are out rightly racist but I learned that you don’t have to be crazy to hate Jewish people.”
Kone born a History major from Ivory Coast, has never experienced anything racist or discriminatory but feels like people are more ignorant.
“For me, I haven’t experienced any racism but I feel like people come off as ignorant rather than racist. I was born in Ivory Coast and came here when I was seven. I’m a history major and people assume that I take African classes but I haven’t. Like I’ve been in classes where people refer to Black people as a group. Like they want to be inclusive but they don’t do it in the right way. About two or three years ago, I was in a Black Studies class and we were talking about Latin America, the Diaspora, and globalization. So the student was talking about dictatorship and mentioning Latin America, the Caribbean, and then the student turns around and sees me and gets startled and goes ‘oh and Africa,’ trying to include me. Like it’s just stuff like that I’ve been through where people just don’t know how to be inclusive and it comes off as ignorant to me. But that’s the thing. Racism takes on new forms and you just don’t know how to identify it. You don’t know how to react anymore. You start to question yourself like ‘did that just happen to me?’ because racism is takes on new shapes and forms than what our parents experienced. I’ve dealt with more issues where I just don’t know what to call it.”
Zachary Beer is the Vice President of the Hillel club. He tells the story of what happened when he dressed in a way that made him look more religious, more orthodox.
Summer of 2018
“There has been an increase in anti-Semitic crimes. On several occasions I’ve been called k***. A couple of times in July, in August, one time in June…I have a theory about why though. I had an internship at the Manhattan Borough President’s office and I looked more religious. I looked much more like the ultra-orthodox because I was wearing button downs and dress pants and white shirts…one big problem that still exists in this city is that people like really, really hate like the ultra-orthodox Jews. Even if they feel better about the less religious Jews. There was one instance someone got in my face for no reason screaming, “Free Palestine! Free Palestine!” near city hall, across from the office. The moment it happened I walked away from him. Like I’m not dealing with this person. This was after a couple of those k*** incidents and I was just frustrated. Like I know exactly why you’re doing this. I know exactly what your hatred is. Like what does this do for you, what does this achieve other than to make me feel less safe in this city that I should feel safe in.”
Sara Elkhodiry, a Muslim sophomore student that wears both the hijab and niqav scarves says it’s okay to be curious and asking questions about Muslim culture, she welcomes it.
“I get a lot of curious glances and it’s totally normal because I know everyone is different. It’s only offensive if they are looking and asking as if they are trying to attack you. Cause then it’s about hate. In my freshman year, I had a professor that mocked me. Then it’s offensive and not funny. Early in the semester he’s like ‘how am I supposed to know that it’s you and that you’re the same person that comes to class every week?’ I went to him after class and told him that if he’s curious about my religion, he can talk or ask questions after class. I’d rather you speak to me after class not in front of everyone. I said it in a nice manner and he was nice about it and I could tell he was just curious. A friend in the class texted me later asking if I was okay, saying that he was a jerk. I told her I was okay and that I handled it. We Muslims are nice people. We would much rather have you ask questions…we don’t get offended if you ask. Just not in a way that feels like an attack. It’s just the way you ask or treat us that makes a difference. I myself am curious about other religions, cultures, or races. But it’s an attack if you make me feel uncomfortable.”
Yael David is the Director of Jewish Life and Engagement at Hillel and reflects on the anti-Semitic slur drawn on the door of the Hillel club back in March of last year.
“Hillel is a pluralistic Jewish organization on campus that welcomes Jewish students of all backgrounds as well as non-Jewish students to partake in Jewish life on campus. We call Hillel a “home away from home” because in a busy commuter lifestyle such as the one common at City College, students need a place they can feel welcomed, comfortable, and at home. Our small office in the NAC is a cozy space where Jewish students can feel safe. Of course, we wanted students on campus to know where they can find us. While we were working on printing a nice sign for the office door, we temporarily taped a piece of paper with the Hillel at City College logo to the door. So when I received a phone call on a Monday morning last March that the word “Hillel” had been drawn on with swastikas, my heart sank. A space that we had worked so hard to feel welcoming for all students on campus suddenly wasn’t anymore. Our Jewish ‘home’ on campus didn’t feel safe anymore. Someone in our campus community drew a symbol that represents hate, destruction, and anti-Semitism on our front door. Each phone call that I made to another student to tell them what had happened was more and more painful. I had to tell Jewish students that there was someone on their campus who targeted the [Hillel club]. The Jewish people have always faced anti-Semitism, and on that day it was at CCNY. But we must always move forward, keep living life, and continue to embrace Jewish life. The same day, we put up a new sign. The next day, public safety met Hillel members so that students are better equipped should something like this ever happen again. Public safety trained our students on what to do should this incident ever happen again. For example, calling public safety right away and leaving the evidence where it is. And the next week, we continued our programs and events as usual. While we will always remember the experience we had that Monday last March, we will also continue to always celebrate Jewish life at City College.”
This Muslim student chose to go by the name Sally so she wouldn’t be identified in the article. Sally says the world sees her as a triple threat: Black, female, and Muslim, but ensures that she is just like every other college student.
“When I was around 14 years old, me and my two younger siblings were coming back from Quran class, which is like Bible study. We had just gotten off the bus to wait for another to get home. As we were waiting for the bus, there was a big cop car parked right by the bus stop. I didn’t think much of it, until I noticed that the cop had rolled his window down and was staring at me and my siblings. The staring continued until the bus came, which took around 10 minutes. I remember feeling so weirded out and uncomfortable. I was wearing a hijab and a black long abaya [dress] and so was my sister. My little brother was in a thawb [an ankle-length garment]. Around this time, terrorist crimes were on the rise, and my mom was constantly reminding me to be cautious when I was out and about. I didn’t have any type of physical interaction with the cop, but they just stared at me like I was some criminal. This stuck with me because it was one of the first negative encounters I’ve had, not knowing that there were more to come. I remember feeling like the people that were supposed to protect me, were actually the ones that we’re dangerous to me. As I am older now, I faced many different discriminations based on my religion and race, from both non-Muslims and Muslims. It is very disheartening to feel like you don’t fit into any category. Especially now with the state of the current presidency, it’s always a worry about everything. I understand that the world may see me as a triple threat for being black, female, and Muslim, but there is nothing to fear. I’m simply a struggling college student with aspirations and dreams; just like others. It’s sad that in 2018 discrimination based on race and religion is still prevalent and it’s also sad that nothing seems to be done for it. History seems to be repeating itself, and that’s what makes the world such a scary place.”
Rabbi Yudi Shmotkin
Rabbi Yudi Shmotkin has been a Rabbi for Jewish students at CCNY for five years and is a part of the club Chabad that partners with the Hillel.
“Recently a few students have come to me feeling unsafe and uncomfortable on campus for reasons that I can’t say but my thoughts on anti-Semitism is this: any hatred or bigotry has no place in City College, in America, or anywhere. Our job is to counter that with love, good deeds, and kindness. If hatred and bigotry is contagious, how much more contagious can love and kindness be?”
Student Ahsanul Abeer published his first encounter with Islamophobia on the Odyssey website in 2016. He first experienced discrimination when he was in the third grade, working on a school project and accidentally expressed his religion.“Edwin was the greatest friend I ever had in my years in elementary school. Until that one day in the third grade…As I got my stuff and started to walk towards him, I accidentally stepped on one of my classmate’s book. My parents had taught me that it was a Muslim duty to kiss a book of knowledge three times if our feet ever touched it…And so I bent over, picked up the book, and kissed it three times. It just took a few seconds, but I wonder what my life would’ve been like had Edwin not turned his head and saw me kiss that book for those very few seconds. If we still would have been the best of friends had he not turned his head and saw me perform a deed that would literally change his entire outlook on me. I saw him staring as I put the book on my classmate’s desk, and felt something off about the way he was looking, but I shrugged it off and sat in front him. Right away he asked, ‘What were you doing?’ I replied, ‘I was just giving the book Salam (that’s what we called the whole book kissing thing). I’m a Muslim so I have to do that.’ Edwin suddenly tensed up a little and said, ‘You’re Muslim?’ ‘Yeah! I’m a Muslim! What are you?’ ‘I’m a Christian. I didn’t know you were Muslim.’…Eventually, the questions stopped, and we began to discuss the project…The next day, Edwin and I sat in the same spot of the classroom again and began to discuss the project. But he couldn’t wait five minutes until he said, ‘Hey, is it okay if we sit in different spots in lunch today?’ I shifted a little, confused by the question and asked him, ‘Why do you want to sit somewhere else?’ ‘I just want to sit somewhere different today. Y’know like try something new and talk to other people. You should do that too. We could sit next to each other sometimes.’ ‘But we’ve been sitting next to each other for so long, why now?’ ‘My mom said that Christians and Muslims shouldn’t be with each other. You know after 9/11 and everything she thinks we shouldn’t hang out with each other.’ I can still remember that moment of fear when I knew somewhere in my heart that I was about to lose my best friend. And over what? Because I was a Muslim and he was a Christian? Because, somehow, kissing a book three times put me in the same spotlight as the horrendous terrorists that took the lives of thousands? I had all these thoughts swirling in my mind, and I was a third grader who had no idea about what made me so bad that I had to be taken away from my best friend.”