An article recently appeared in my name on a website called TheJ.ca. The article’s title implied that McMaster University students live in fear on campus. While the background to how the article appeared is less relevant, I want to clarify any misconceptions regarding Jewish life at McMaster. In my opinion and experience, McMaster is one of the best universities for Jewish students.
As a participant in a fellowship with an American media-monitoring organization, I wrote an essay refuting claims that Israeli society falsely promotes itself as gay-friendly to attract tourism. Upon the organization’s request, I submitted the piece to the J. The website published the article under my name, before letting me review the final draft, under the headline, Jewish And Pro-Israel Students At McMaster Keep Their Heads Low In Fear Of Being Attacked. The article included no mention of Jewish student reactions to the pink-washing assertions.
The J refused my request to remove the article after I argued that it did not reflect my original work and that the headline was misleading. The article has caused many Hamilton Jewish community members to worry that Jewish students may be afraid of facing harassment at McMaster.
This deeply disturbed me and prompted me to share this story more broadly, so that community members are aware of the truth, coming from me, and not from any outside organization. While the catchy headline of the article may ring true at other universities around the world, it is not the case at McMaster University.
McMaster’s Jewish community is 500+ students strong and students walk freely, wearing visibly Jewish and Israeli garb. There have been instances over the years, where I have spoken with anti-Israel activists who portray Israel in a negative light or outright deny its right to exist. However, I have never been personally attacked on campus for my opinions and I have had the opportunity to talk with many people whose perspectives differ from my own. A few students and faculty members have even expressed how grateful they are to hear different narratives and be able learn from others. I have had enriching and mind-opening conversations with people of all different faiths, the majority of whom would never discriminate against anyone on the basis of their religion at McMaster.
The tight-knit Hamilton Jewish community is like no other and it has truly enriched my university experience. I have always felt welcome and a part of the warm community here, ever since Welcome Week in first year. Hillel and Chabad, as well as the greater Hamilton Jewish community, have all contributed to my amazing experience. McMaster Hillel has always been there for Jewish students, whether for Jewish holidays, educational or Israel-related events or social gatherings. I am grateful to the Hillel staff for all they have done to help and to have them as a reference for any concerns that may arise. McMaster Hillel truly looks out for its students, both on and off campus. Students of all faiths and backgrounds have a home at McMaster, regardless of the message that some media may aim to portray.
I can assure you that most Jewish students are not afraid and take great pride in being Jewish on campus. Just last spring, before the COVID-19 lockdown, we held a remarkable “Israeli Shuk Day” in the middle of campus, complete with a falafel stand, a Dead Sea spa experience, information about the diversity of Israel, and more. This event, along with the other Israel-themed events on campus, do not reflect fear. They reflect the courage and spirit of the Jewish and pro-Israel community at McMaster and in the greater Hamilton community. We keep our heads high with pride, both on and off campus.
While my experience with the J and the monitoring group was disappointing, it taught me several important lessons. First, I learned how to ask for help. I was working blindly with organizations that I knew very little about and was reluctant to ask for advice from the many resources I am privileged to be able to access for direction. I have learned that it is better to ask for help than to try to do everything independently.
I have also discovered that we cannot always rely on others to respect the integrity of our work, particularly in the area of communications and journalism. Many individuals and publications, both in print and digital, prioritize their ideas and beliefs, and that of their readership, (at the expense of the perspectives and viewpoints of the writers whose work they publish.) My recent experience has taught me to be cautious and skeptical before naively following the instructions of people who may have little concern or regard for my personal experience or perspective.
Ezra Nadler is currently in his third year of the Bachelor of Arts and Science program at McMaster University.