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Honoring Jewish American Heritage Month through learning and exploration

This month, which has been so difficult for many in our community, is an especially timely and appropriate one in which to celebrate National Jewish American Heritage Month, and to reflect on the many contributions that Jewish students, teachers, scholars, innovators, healers and leaders have made at the University of Washington and around the world. In the face of an increasing number of  incidents of antisemitism around the world and, sadly, here closer to home, it also gives us the opportunity to forcefully reject anti-Jewish prejudice and bigotry as a community.

To this end, for months I have been engaging with, and will continue to engage with, Jewish students and community members to ensure our University is truly a welcoming and inclusive campus. Hearing from students who no longer feel comfortable wearing a Star of David, or who felt discomfort, or even fear, walking across campus has been simultaneously heartbreaking and maddening, yet  understandable given some of the repugnant graffiti we saw on our buildings and even on dorm bulletin boards. These incidents were among the reasons we recently launched a task force to assess and address concerns about antisemitism.

In light of these events, it is important to reaffirm that our University is home to a rich tradition of Jewish life, culture and studies, including Hillel UW and Chabad UW, which offer a wide range of programming, service opportunities and welcoming spaces for many of the more than 2,500 Jewish students earning their UW degrees. From the Hillel House Band to weekly Shabbat dinners and services across campus, Jewish Huskies with a range of beliefs have many options to explore and connect with their faith and identity across our University.

Within the Jackson School of International Studies, the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies serves as a hub for Jewish scholarship. Stroum Center students and scholars are engaged with a broad array of academic pursuits at the intersections of history, religion, arts, politics and ethnicity. Among them is lecturer Nicolaas Barr who was selected as the 2023 Outstanding Instructor in Jewish Studies for his inspiring teaching about antisemitism. Underscoring the interdisciplinary nature of Jewish Studies, this year’s Finish Line Fellowship in Jewish Studies was awarded to Ke Guo (郭可), a doctoral candidate in music education who studies and performs traditional Sephardic music.

The center also has a large catalog of digital resources including the origins of anti-Jewish prejudice, stories about American Jews and the Spanish Civil War collected by Professor Joe Butwin, an exhibit about the life of the Sephardic Jewish immigrant Albert Levy, a lecture on the intersection of American Jewish and African American music, and a conversation with author Gary Steyngart about his American Jewish experience as a writer and immigrant. These types of education and dialogue are central to our mission as a public-serving institution of learning and inquiry.

Jewish Americans, who make up roughly two percent of the U.S. population, have always been a vibrant part of life in America and Seattle. And the traditions, culture and tenets of this 3,500-year-old faith form enduring ties that have enabled the 15.7 million Jews around the world to persevere in the face of genocide and antisemitism. All of us, Jewish and gentile, have a responsibility to condemn and combat what some have called “the oldest hatred.” Together, we will work harder to be a welcoming community for people of all faiths and ancestries, who learn, work and live in safety and dignity.