With antisemitism on the rise, Jewish students say they need safe spaces on campus


Graphic by Will Baker.

Tristan Longwell, Contributor

This story has been updated to include the University of Connecticut’s statement.

Cal State LA  criminal justice major Valerie Perlovskaya founded a new Jewish club because she feels the Jewish student body does not have a presence on campus, compared to other minority communities.

Perlovskaya is the club’s president and founder. Out of the five members, three are Jewish and two are not.

“Out of the entire student body and my semester being a student, I’ve only met four other Jewish students,” Perlovskaya said.

The club is open to students of all backgrounds.

Perlovskaya refers to it as “Jew-ish” because she wants Jewish and non-Jewish students alike to have a place to learn about Judaism. She said the club’s cutesy, hyphenated name symbolizes her open-minded vision of a space where students of all backgrounds come together to appreciate the cultural practices and traditions, free of hate.

“Anybody who is willing to learn and wants more education on Judaism is always welcome in Jewish spaces,” she added.

Dr. Kate Kurtin, who is among the few Jewish professors at Cal State LA, has experienced a rise and fall in antisemitism her entire life, both professionally and personally.

Cal State LA’s Public Affairs office did not respond to request for comment when the University Times asked if they know specifically how many Jewish professors teach at the school. An updated version of this story added if they release a statement.

 “I have not been a victim on this campus, but it also wasn’t until this year when I was scheduled to teach classes on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that I canceled classes and told the students why,” Kurtin said. “When I was first teaching at the University of Connecticut, I wore a Jewish star necklace one time and received course evals at the end of the semester that were so full of hate that I swore to never do it again.  I suppose it speaks well to our community that I felt comfortable, 12 years later, telling my students why we wouldn’t be having class on the holidays. I received no backlash last semester for that choice.”

Stephanie Reitz, the university of Connecticut (UConn) spokesperson and manager of media relations said that UConn “abhors antisemitism in all forms” and that she was “very sorry to hear of the issue with the student evaluations.”

Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement. Together, they are called the High Holidays. Jewish people begin Rosh Hashana by blowing the Shofar, a horn, which signifies the new year.

Tradition also calls for apples with honey, matzo ball soup, pomegranate seeds and a round challah. There is no work or school.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. Those who observe, fast for 24 hours with the intention to atone and repent for one’s personal sins.

There was a 34% increase in the occurrence of antisemetic incidents between 2020 and 2021, according to a study done by the Jewish Virtual Library.

85% of Americans believe in at least one anti-Jewish trope, according to a January 2023 report by the Anti-Defamation League and the University of Chicago.

Last week, 28-year-old Jaime Tran shot two Jewish men at two separate synagogues, according to a report by CNN.

“Recent acts of antisemitism, both locally and across the world, have had an impact on the ways in which we plan special events for our non-profit organization,” said Romy Greenberger, a regional director at a local Jewish non-profit. “Security must always be present, and guests are often vetted before the event takes place. Our safety and the safety of our guests is always at the forefront of our minds. Whether or not there has been a recent act against the Jewish community or open threat, we know it’s always a possibility that something could happen.”

If you are interested in learning more about Cal State LA’s “Jew-ish” club, students, faculty and staff can contact Club President and Founder Valerie Perlovskaya, by emailing [email protected] or sending a direct message through Instagram @csula.jewishclub.

Disclaimer: This writer is part of the Jewish club mentioned.