Greg Russo is an alumnus of the Wexner Heritage Program, Metrowest, NJ 08 and a Human Resource Executive in Northern New Jersey. He serves on the Board of UJC Metrowest and as a Vice President at the Hebrew Academy of Morris County. Gregg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During Shabbat services, when the rabbi first mentioned a protest at Rutgers that night I was lukewarm about attending. I had plans to attend a party and did not look forward to driving down to Rutgers University. I had no knowledge of the event other than what the rabbi had said. By Kiddush my interest was piqued.
At the end of Shabbos a friend called and mentioned that his daughter, who attended Rutgers, had encouraged him to attend. I agreed to go with him and on the drive down I learned more details. A campus group, BAKA, had formed to protest the treatment of Palestinians by Israel. They were sponsoring a presentation featuring two Holocaust survivors who were equating the Palestinian situation with the Shoah. A group of Rutgers students planned on attending the event and walk out wearing T-shirts which read “Don’t politicize the Holocaust.” The group emphasized their desire not to interrupt the speakers or in any other way to be disrespectful.
When we arrived, we were greeted by a large crowd of both students and the general public lining the foyer and all appeared to overwhelming be aligned with Israel. As the starting time for the presentation got closer, ushers requested orderly conduct. A police presence also became noticeable. Although there was palpable energy among the crowd, now numbering close to 400, it was generally orderly.
Many in the group had been attracted by advertisements that indicated that there was a suggested donation, but that the event was “free and open to the public.”
However, as the event time neared, an announcement was made that a donation of $5-$20 was now required for entry. Still, several apparently (based on their dress) Muslim students were escorted around the crowd and given entry to the event.
The crowd became visibly agitated. More police arrived to enforce order and the crowd, led predominately by the students, began chanting “Let the students in,” “Am Yisrael Chai,” and “Free and open to the public.”
Several arguments threatened to break out between individuals and event sponsors. Yet despite this, the event began taking on the feeling of a pro-Israel rally, as my friend quieted the crowd and shared his story. He had emigrated from Libya, he told the group, and he had experienced similar tactics beginning with lies, followed by denial of freedoms, ending in the death of a Jewish community. The crowd vocally rallied behind him.
As we left, the crowd had coalesced. They stayed to dance the hora and sing joyfully, celebrating both Judaism and Israel. I left full of energy and admiration for my friend and the power of the Jewish community.