Jewish students at the U feel safer than peers in other states but are still worried
University of Utah junior Asher Ireland was near the student union laying tefillin — which he described as a “very Jewish act” — and praying. It was both the first week students were back on campus after fall break and since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in Israel. Ireland said the only other person in the area was Rabbi Moshe Nigri, director of the Chabad on Campus, who had set up an information table.
Several people then ran by, Ireland said, and yelled “Free Palestine.” While Ireland said they were ostensibly saying that phrase to support Palestinians, it felt antisemitic to him.
“They can’t identify a Zionist because of the way they look. They can identify a Jew because of the way they pray,” Ireland said. “You’re not targeting students because of Zionist political ideology. You’re targeting students because of Jewish religious identity, and that’s antisemitic.”
While the U has not experienced violent incidents like those at some schools in other states, Jewish students on campus are still worried.
On Nov. 8, an Israeli flag in the school's Gardner Commons was defaced. Ireland said it is concerning, but he is thankful specific students weren’t targeted. And Nigri said he has experienced passersby shouting “Free Palestine” in his direction multiple times.
Now, to feel physically safe while walking between classes, Ireland said he no longer wears a yarmulke or Jewish symbols on campus and tucks his Star of David necklace under his shirt.
“A lot of students are scared,” Ireland said. “We have so many diverse perspectives, so all of our students are grappling with this a little bit differently, and it’s really hard to cast them all in the same light. But being scared is about the simplest way to put it.”
While Nigri understands the concerns of students, he said he’s been encouraging them to not hide their Jewish identity.
Ireland is also the president of Hillel for Utah, a student group part of the United Jewish Federation of Utah. Traditionally, the group’s events have been public, but recently they have shifted to more private settings to be safe. While Nigri has felt supported by the university and President Taylor Randall, he said students have asked him if police will be present for an upcoming Shabbat meal he is hosting.
Jewish students, Ireland said, “didn’t ask to be put in this position where we are deeply mourning.” He added that while students are mourning their community, it does not mean they aren’t also mourning the deaths of “innocent Palestinian civilians.”
“And we are absolutely abhorred by the hate that our Muslim colleagues on this campus have felt, that they didn't ask for either,” Ireland said.
Editor’s note: KUER is a licensee of the University of Utah but operates as an editorially independent news organization.