On Wednesday, April 12th, 2017, 5 students from SF Hillel replied to President Wong's response to their earlier letter of concern regarding the campus climate at SF State. Their letter, and President first response are included.
Dear President Wong:
Thank you for your response of April 5. However, you responded to only some of our concerns, and we are collectively shocked by the implication at the end of your reply - that institutionalized anti-Semitism is not an issue for the President of a public university, especially one that that celebrates its diversity. If you recall, two years ago, Hillel supported the University when an outside entity alleged that SF State was one of America’s most anti-semitic campuses. We did not agree with the motivations or strategies of that list, but today we can no longer defend the University in good faith from charges of anti-Semitism.
I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to travel to New York for my final spring break as an undergraduate student. Our Alternative Break experience not only gave me a better understanding of the fantastic volunteer work that happens in New York City, but also how I can help change the world.
Before this Alternative Break trip, I was honestly pretty nervous. I didn’t know many of the SF Hillel people in our group, I was traveling alone, and I didn’t know what to expect. I ended the trip not only with experience working in the community, but with great new friends. I gained a new sense of self on this trip and learned to love people even more.
When signing up to go on Alternative Break with SF Hillel, I wasn’t quite sure what I was signing my self up for. All I knew it was a social justice trip. I had been inspired to join after speaking with Emily, our Hillel staff member, about how angry I was with the lack of equity in today’s society. Emily and I shared this conversation just days after the presidential election occurred, so emotions were running high. Emily recognized my anger, and challenged me to think about what I was or could be doing in my community to help change the status quo, because sitting with anger wouldn't help anyone or anything. When my mind drew a blank, Emily suggested that I participate in Alternative Break.
When I signed up for the Racial Justice Seminar, I was so excited for the trip, but I was also nervous because I had never tutored school children or volunteered at a food pantry before. My nervousness gave way to fulfillment as my favorite projects on the trip were tutoring students with Reading Partners and doing food kitchen prep work at Masbia Kosher Soup Kitchen.
Growing up, everyone always knew that I was the kid who loved to read. I started at a very early age, finishing the first Harry Potter book at only five years old. I even took it upon myself to teach my brother how to read when he was very young. For me, the ability to read and appreciate words felt like the most important gift that I could give someone, and on our third day in New York, I got to meet an organization which felt that same way.
I believe that when we forget people are human, atrocities happen. Being Jewish is about never letting a suffering soul go unnoticed. To help someone in need is to witness yourself in another. This Racial Justice Seminar gave me the kick that I needed.
On Monday, April 3rd, 2017, a group of 25 diverse students from SF Hillel's community sent this letter to SF State's President Wong expressing their concerns over the president's invitation of Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat to campus and other recent events:
Dear President Wong:
We are writing as SF State Jewish and/or Hillel students with serious questions and concerns about your recent actions. Unilaterally inviting and bringing the Mayor of Jerusalem back to campus with one week’s notice, and without consulting a single student, appears to be a reckless political stunt. We do not see what it is designed to achieve. If you have a clear vision for creating a welcoming and inclusive climate for Jewish students on this campus, we want to understand what it is. Because, unfortunately, your actions are actively undermining Jewish student life, and enabling an environment causing actual discrimination against Jewish students.
We are diverse in our ethnicities, backgrounds, religions and viewpoints. Some of us are zionists while others are not. Some of us strongly support Israel’s government and others are strong critics. Whether we each agree with Mayor Barkat’s opinions or not, he is an important political figure with a specific viewpoint. We will welcome Mayor Barkat as we did left-wing Israeli journalist Ari Shavit and OneVoice Palestine’s Samer Makhlouf.
However, we do not understand your recent actions.