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Post-Oct. 7, Jewish life on campus requires extra security to keep students safe
Several of the top schools in the country now hire armed guards to protect Jewish spaces
One Hillel at a Big Ten university used to employ armed guards only for “big” Shabbat dinners — the ones with hundreds of students. Since Oct. 7, the day of Hamas’ deadly rampage in southern Israel, which has resulted in rising antisemitism globally, armed security personnel now patrol the on-campus Hillel building for around five hours every day.
Similarly, University of Miami Hillel always hired armed security for Shabbat dinners and holidays with more than 100 students. But last Shabbat, which had an attendance of about 60, was the first time the Hillel requested that university police guard a smaller event.
Armed guards were also present at some campus Chabads last Shabbat. At a university in the Northeast, a Chabad rebbetzin said that having the local police department, in addition to the regular unarmed security staff who check names, was “something we never did before.”
“To be honest, it’s very costly,” she said. “We hope it isn’t the new normal, but I don’t know.”
In the two weeks since Hamas’ massacre, Jewish students at American universities have expressed frustration and sadness at official university statements viewed as weak — in addition to being fearful of pro-Palestine student groups and faculty, some of whom have outright celebrated Hamas’ attacks.
Now, as the war between Israel and Hamas appears poised to enter a new phase with Israel’s likely ground incursion in Gaza, armed guards are becoming a new normal at some Jewish centers on college campuses around the country.
On Thursday, Hillel International’s CEO, Adam Lehman, addressed the security situation in a webinar, saying that armed guards would be hired to protect students at Shabbat activities.
“It might seem unimaginable that students going to a simple service would have to walk through armed guards, but that is in some cases what we need on the campuses,” Lehman said.
A Hillel spokesperson told Jewish Insider that emergency funds will support a wide range of efforts and that the group is still assessing what the needs of specific schools are to best decide how they will be implemented over the next few weeks.
At the University of Miami Hillel, Executive Director Briana Schwarz decided against taking a wait-and-see approach. Through the remainder of the school year, any Shabbat or event with more than 40 students will have armed security present, she told JI.
“Once everything started two weeks ago, we have been in daily communication with the university police department,” Schwarz continued, adding that “students don’t seem to notice the guards. But I’ve gotten calls from parents who are happy we’ve taken the extra step.”
Schwarz said the school is not aware of any direct threats to Hillel, but that a widely circulated statement from an official channel associated with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal calling on Muslims worldwide to engage in a “Day of Rage” on Oct. 13 was a wake-up call to stay vigilant.
Paying for police officers is “a significant new expense for our Hillel,” Schwarz said.
“Hillel International has grants to help subsidize the cost. We applied last week. But typically we only paid for police when we knew we were having something huge. Now, we’re classifying 40 students as large enough to necessitate a police officer,” she said.
Lucy Levin, a senior at University of Miami who works at Hillel as a receptionist, said that having a security presence is comforting – especially for her parents.
“My parents were asking me a lot of questions which made me worried that they were worried,” Levin, who is now responsible for checking identification of anyone who enters the building, something that was not done prior to Oct. 7, said. “Many parents have been calling the front desk asking questions about security.”
Levin added that among her peers, she doesn’t know anyone avoiding campus Jewish events out of fear.
At Elon University Chabad in North Carolina, officers from the Town of Elon Police Department were present a couple of years ago for a few weeks following a string of antisemitic incidents at the school.
Last Shabbat, the guards returned. “We heard from concerned parents who are far away from their kids. Having armed guards puts their minds at ease,” Rabbi Mendy Minkowitz told JI.
Minkowitz said Chabad on Campus offers partial grants, about 50%, to fund the officers.
He said every Chabad rabbi working on a college campus that he’s spoken to is taking “some form of precaution.”
“In terms of hiring armed guards, I’ve spoken to a few,” Minkowitz said. There are 207 Chabad on Campus centers in the U.S. and Canada, according to Chabad-Lubavitch’s national organization, headquartered in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The officers have been hired for the next five weeks and then Minkowitz said he will reevaluate. “The amount of time we need them is directly related to whatever happens in Israel. If [the war] is prolonged this will be included in our equation for the next little bit.”