Jewish teenagers from high schools and colleges came together at a rally in Merrick last week, in solidarity and support for Israel amid its ongoing war against Hamas.
In the weeks following the Oct. 7 attack in which Hamas entered Israel and killed more than 1,000 people, taking hundreds captive, Jews have been affected by a steady increase in antisemitism around the world.
Students, in particular, have witnessed and been affected by hate in schools. Just a few weeks ago, swastikas were found in an East Meadow High School classroom — an incident that joins countless others on Long Island.
At the Nov. 22 rally, organized by Jodi Turk-Goldberg and Stephanie Arnell, in collaboration with the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, dozens of teenagers from a number of communities gathered at the intersection of Broadcast Plaza and Merrick Avenue, near the Merrick Long Island Rail Road station. Rabbis, leaders in the Jewish community and elected officials joined the students, and several speakers took the stage to pledge their unwavering support for Israel.
“The reason why you’re gathered right here today is because many of us feel surrounded by the darkness in our schools, our colleges and on the streets,” Rabbi Shimon Kramer, director of the Chabad Center, said. “Your mission is to light the candle for truth and for the Jewish people.”
The student speakers at the rally included Sofie Glassman of East Meadow High School; Hailey Arnell of Wellington C. Mepham High School; Madison Lange of John F. Kennedy High School; Liam Schorr, a student at Columbia University; and Matthew Pfeffer, a student at Brandeis University.
Ryan Kertzner, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, played a musical performance on guitar at the end of the rally.
Glassman, a junior, said that throughout her high school career, antisemitism has been something that she’s endured.
“When I decided to start speaking out about my experiences, it was liberating in a sense that people finally knew what I was going through,” she said. “Although at the time I thought speaking out was a personal choice, I quickly learned that it was it was not, with the rise of antisemitism since Oct. 7 increasing by over 400 percent — staying silent is not an option.”
Glassman encouraged the crowd to help make the voices of Jewish people heard on social media.
“You have the power to create change,” she said. “I am calling on you, the people of my generation, to be the voice for the Jewish people.”
Arnell, founder of the Jewish Student Union chapter at Mepham, spoke about how it feels to be a Jewish teenager amid the Israel-Hamas war.
“Jewish teens in the United States are thousands of miles away from Israel, yet we have found ourselves bombarded with antisemitic messages shared on social media platforms,” she said. “As teens, we should be focused on grades, SATs, and whether our school’s sports team will win our next games. Jewish teens are at times feeling anxious, isolated and helpless.”
Just weeks earlier, on the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, an organized attack of the Jewish people and their businesses by the Nazi Party in Germany in 1938, Arnell said she had an opportunity to hear Holocaust survivor Sami Steigman speak.
“He said only we have the power to choose how we respond to our circumstances,” she said. “In closing, I want to remind you of the words of Sami: ‘Don’t feed into the hate, and educate.’”
Schorr said he’s enrolled in a dual degree program at Columbia University alongside the Jewish Theological Seminary.
“I’m lucky to have the privilege to study the history of the Jewish people and learn Hebrew at one of the best institutions in the world for Jewish studies,” Schorr said. “However, it deeply pains me to witness the significant increase in prejudice and hate against the Jewish community.”
Schorr referenced several antisemitic incidents that have occurred on Columbia’s campus since Oct. 7, citing controversial statements made by faculty and club leaders, and said many Jewish students feel the university has responded inadequately.
“Columbia has a motto which translates to, ‘In thy light, we shall see light,’” Schorr said. “However, the recent events show a stark contrast between the university’s motto and the current reality on our campus. These incidents not only threaten the wellbeing and sense of security of Jewish students, but also challenge the fundamental values of the ideas that the Columbia motto embodies.”
Rabbi Kramer said it is a large responsibility of the Jewish people to be the light in dark times, but it is one they must take on.
“We are given a match,” he said. “We are given a candle to light up our surroundings. We must not duck in fear. We must speak the truth and light up our surroundings. The world will respect the Jews and respect their history, their heritage and their faith.”