With its sizable Jewish population and availability of kiruv and Israel-oriented programs, Queens College does not make the news for the Israel-Arab conflict. But with tensions flaring up following the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem on Monday, the Gaza conflict appeared on campus on the following day. “Somebody chalked the names of the 61 rioters who were killed in Gaza yesterday on the quad,” said political science sophomore Judah Powers. “Let’s be honest. They were rioters. This is a vigil for terrorists.”
Feeling the urge to respond, Powers and three other Jewish students ran to get chalk and responded with messages of their own. “We wrote ‘Rock slinging, grenade throwing, and tire burning aren’t peaceful protests,’ and ‘61 terrorists killed attacking Jews.’” Initially, they had an easy time writing their pro-Israel message on the campus plaza, but then Arab students began to gather and called security on Powers and his friends. “We wore our yarmulkas. We were not hiding who we are.”
Campus security and groundskeeping staff accused Powers of defacing school property, but the politically savvy student replied that it was a free speech issue and that he had the same right to scrawl Zionist messages as those who wrote down the names of the 61 dead Gazans. “They stood by to watch. There was yelling and water poured on the chalk. Security kept people separate,” said Powers.
Overall the Bronx resident described Queens College as very safe for Jewish students, with so many frum Jews and programs on campus that it is the “Public YU.” Although Powers had a final exam on the following day, he does not regret taking a couple of hours off from his studies to engage in activism. “I felt that I was making a difference.”
By Sergey Kadinsky