Ollie Gratzinger | Asst. Features Editor
After nearly three years of dormancy, Duquesne University’s Jewish Student Organization has been revived in hopes of providing an educational space for Jewish and non-Jewish students alike, according to founder and sophomore Duquesne political science major David DeFelice.
The Jewish Chronicle estimates that students of Jewish descent comprise less than one percent of nearly 5,800 undergraduates here at Duquesne, but those who do call the Bluff home are determined to make their voices known.
After returning from a trip to Israel through Birthright, an educational organization that sponsors free 10-day heritage trips to Israel for young, Jewish adults, DeFelice was inspired to apply what he learned abroad to the Duquesne community.
“Going on Birthright and seeing the problems that the State of Israel faces … I really had the desire to get more involved with [local Jewish organizations] and provide a space for Jewish students on campus to organize and advocate,” DeFelice said. “Reviving it gave me the opportunity to assist Jewish students on campus, because even though we don’t have many, navigating the school can be different as a minority religion.”
DeFelice called the action “necessary,” stating that amid an insurgence of pro-Palestine rhetoric, revamping the JSO is one way to fight back against the growing issue of anti-Semitism.
The club will also strive to work with Pittsburgh’s branch of Hillel Jewish University Center to educate its members on Israel and Jewish identity.
“What you hear in the news is not always actually what the State of Israel stands for,” DeFelice said.
He pointed out that Israel is often misunderstood.
“There are valid points on both sides of the [Israel versus Palestine] debate, but one of the biggest misconceptions is that Israel is this conglomerate that stands for oppressing people when in reality, the Jewish state stands for a people that escaped [emphasis his] oppression,” DeFelice said.
Rabbi Seth Adelson of Pittsburgh’s Beth Shalom congregation believes that the JSO will be a great addition to Duquesne’s more than 200 student organizations.
“Having an organized Jewish presence at Duquesne is very important for Jewish students because it will give them a focal point through which to meet each other and coordinate activities that they will benefit from,” Adelson said. “Jews are communal people; we have for centuries created community organizations wherever we have lived.”
According to Adelson, the club’s importance extends beyond Jewish students and well into the university’s majority as well.
“I think that it will also benefit the non-Jewish students because the university environment should be one that expands one’s horizons,” he added. “As students at a Catholic university, interacting with Jewish students and perhaps engaging with Jewish programming might also help non-Jewish students put their own faith into perspective.”
Adelson stressed the importance of making non-Jewish students sensitive to issues and challenges that their Jewish counterparts may face. Among those issues, he cited the growing dangers of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish rhetoric in the United States.
The Anti-Defamation League’s annual “Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents” reports that in 2015, the number of violent anti-Semitic assaults in the country rose dramatically, “contributing to a three percent rise in the total number of anti-Jewish incidents.”
The audit also found that in 2015 anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses specifically had nearly doubled.
“A total of 90 incidents were reported on 60 college campuses in 2015, compared with 47 incidents on 43 campuses in 2014,” the audit reads.
Adelson and DeFelice both believe the JSO plays a role in combating this disturbing trend.
“Making the Jewish presence on campus more visible might help non-Jewish students be more aware of the challenges that Jews face as individuals and as a people, here in America and around the world,” Adelson said.
Interested students are urged to follow the JSO on Campus Link, as well as to like its page on Facebook, where further event and club information will be posted.
“We are a pluralistic club that is accepting of all people,” DeFelice said. “Anyone interested in Judaism or Jewish culture is always welcome to join.”