By Yaakov Zerykier and Yochanan Sragow
Since October 7, anti-Semitism has skyrocketed across the United States, but nowhere is this felt more keenly than on college campuses across the country. Once bastions of tolerance, these institutions are now rife with calls for the destruction of Israel, a global Intifada, and with students proudly chanting “death to the Zionists.”
Our goal is to shed light on how MIT has been impacted by the events of October 7. We feel it’s important to convey the entire picture of what’s going on at our school and show the reality the media headlines are missing. Let’s start by describing how Jewish life looked like before and how it still looks at MIT.
Orthodox Jewish students at MIT receive better housing accommodations than the average student. Upon request, they are placed on the second floor of one of MIT’s eleven undergraduate residence halls, one that is broken up into apartment-style suites. There are a few of these suites (called “Kosher Suites”) set aside for Jewish students every year, with separate suites for men and women. All have been newly renovated and recently opened last year.
MIT’s optional meal plan includes a kosher section built into one of the campus dining halls. For Shabbos and chagim, food is served at Hillel. Friday night dinner is covered by donors and attracts a variety of Jews from across campus. Additionally, when classes are in session, Hillel provides a daily minyan and breakfast as well as several weekly shiurim, including a free lunch or dinner given by its Orthodox Rabbi. The Chabad on campus also runs its own programming, such as free weekly Shabbat meals throughout the year, and semi-weekly shiurim. Both also provide a plethora of social programs, everything from making mezuzah cases to annual boat trips. At institute-organized events, kosher food is almost always available, although it sometimes requires an advance request.
Around campus, the eruv extends from the southernmost edge of campus, all the way up to Tufts University, about an hour and a half walk north. There are even a few local shuls within its vicinity. Just a short bike ride past the eruv, Brookline’s Jewish community offers a variety of kosher food options, including a kosher grocery store.
Regarding academics, students with a conflicting chag schedules typically have no issues getting lecture notes, rescheduling exams, or getting assignment extensions. In the rare cases where there are difficulties, MIT’s student support offices are quick to step in. The general student body is also quite understanding. Student-led clubs and teams will often go far out of their way to make sure their Jewish peers can participate. All of this is ensured thanks to strong laws protecting religious students in Massachusetts.
Since October 7, none of that has changed. If anything, the Institute’s support for its Jewish students has only gotten stronger. The administration now pays for bi-weekly community lunches for Jewish and Israeli students. The heads of the Kosher Suites building also began regularly providing kosher dinners and snack boxes. The student support offices have also been handing out dining hall swipes and “TechCash,” all of which to ensure that Jewish students continue to eat despite the stress, especially because their mothers aren’t there to feed them!
When the attacks occurred, many faculty members (including non-Jewish ones) began reaching out to students to check-in. Students who requested extensions were given them—some had whole assignments and exams waived—including from a number of MIT’s strictest faculty. Student support officers have even helped students move exams so they could attend pro-Israel rallies. The school’s brand-new “Israel Alliance” (MITIA) was one of the first new clubs to receive interim recognition this year. Hillel, Chabad, and MITIA have started running several pro-Israel rallies, speakers, and a large inter-collegiate kumzits. None have seen any counterprotest at the time of this writing.
At MIT’s Religious Activity Center, where the Hillel and other religious organizations are located, at least one officer from the MIT police department is usually stationed. It continues to be one of the few buildings on campus to always remain locked. On the inside, even with recent events, Jewish and Muslim students peacefully coexist, as they have for decades.
Despite all the media coverage, campus life has, for the most part, remained the same at MIT. Jewish students have continued attending their classes and going about their day with minimal interruption. While it is true that anti-Israel demonstrations have on several occasions occupied one of MIT’s major lobbies (in violation of school rules) these demonstrations have been non-violent. When the administration tried to step in, they found themselves blocked both by the Institute’s controversially broad free speech policy and the fact that the power to impose disciplinary action lies not with them, but with a slow and confidential faculty committee. This is part of why the suspensions they have threatened to impose on anti-Israel protesters have since been walked back, while the students wait for the committee’s decisions. While still unable to punish the protestors, the administration was able to create a “Standing Together Against Hate” commission dedicated to dealing with any nascent anti-Semitism that may exist on campus. It’s not a vague mandate to stand against all forms of hate; the initiative is primarily focused on anti-Semitism. Despite the actions of these demonstrators, many individuals continue to fight to make MIT a safe and welcoming place for Jews.
Jewish life at MIT isn’t perfect but calls to avoid or boycott MIT serve only to deny the next generation of Jews a world-class education at an institute that serves its Jewish students well. MIT has been relatively safe for Jews and will continue to be safe so long as Jewish students continue to attend and make their voices heard.
Yaakov Zerykier is originally from Cedarhurst, NY. He attended Rambam Mesivta and Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah in Israel. He is currently an undergraduate student at MIT, with a prospective major in Mechanical Engineering. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yochanan Sragow, originally from West Orange, NJ, attended the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Yeshivat Frisch. He is currently a graduate student at MIT in the Department of Electrical Engineering after completing his undergraduate degree last year. He can be contacted at email@example.com.