Harvard Alumni Mobilizing Against Antisemitism

I have a Santa Claus suit and I love Christmas.

Being a self-proclaimed Christmas and Easter Jew from Beverly Hills, every Christmas Eve I, 6 ‘4 and 230 pounds, dress in a red suit and white beard with sleigh bells and a giant toy bag in tow.

My daughters love it as well.

I am the son of a Holocaust survivor but never really knew real antisemitism except through my dad’s stories over dinner.

Even with a last name that evokes the largest group of diaspora Jews, nothing felt wrong about having a Christmas tree or making Easter eggs close to Passover.

This is because the Jewish holidays always seemed a lot less fun, especially for kids.

In other words, I am a poster child for Jewish assimilation. I don’t belong to a synagogue and I spend the important Jewish holidays quietly observing with my family.

The closest I have come to a rabbi in years is watching old Jackie Mason videos.

What made such an unlikely adherent become a “Super Jew?”

I am endlessly grateful to Larry Summers, whose tweet about his disillusionment with Harvard alerted me to the fact that the hatred towards Jews there is now almost as bad as it is in the Middle East.

Even before the blood was dry following Hamas’ murderous attack on Israel on October 7th,
some three dozen student groups at Harvard College aggressively condoned the terror group’s rampage.

Harvard’s failure to say anything meaningful for days, weeks even, despite supporting numerous other social-justice causes in recent years, prompted me to take action.

The fine line between political belief and Jew hate was crossed.

Within days, my collegemate Eric Fleiss and I started the Harvard Jewish Alumni Association with the mission to advocate for a truly pluralistic campus community, where all students are welcome, regardless of religious identity.

My time at Harvard College has always been cherished and has felt a deep sense of connection to its social and academic fabric. Except for one old codger who told me he thought my jacket was nice “even though it came through Ellis Island,” I was loved, accepted, and respected by my peers.

Almost 30 years after graduating, I have sponsored events for Harvardwood (alumni in Hollywood) and I do alumni interviews for prospective students. However, this year I refused to do so, given the toxic environment for Jews at Harvard.

It was surprising that Harvard didn’t already have a Jewish alumni group, but the reason was obvious. We never needed one. We were comfortable and didn’t feel the need for advocacy. But something has changed rapidly and profoundly.

Suddenly, it has become fashionable for students and faculty to hate Jews, and this has been noticed by alumni.

Within a month following the Hamas attack, we formed the Harvard Jewish Alumni Association to build a network of 2,000 alumni — 200 of whom are actively working on complex issues related to campus finance, media, education, policy enforcement, outreach, student support, and admissions.

The association is important because Jewish kids at Harvard deserve to have the same experience that I had.

They have the right to be Jews conspicuously in comfort, and they also have the right to choose to fully assimilate in comfort.

Moreover, if we alumni cannot tackle Jew hate at Harvard, how can we hope to reduce antisemitism elsewhere?

Harvard is currently being investigated by the Department of Education for discrimination against Jews, an important step, but more needs to be done, particularly by Harvard President Claudine Gay, who appears unable to devise an effective response to the endemic antisemitism at her institution.

If we are successful at stomping out the world’s oldest scourge at Harvard, maybe it can serve as a blueprint for other colleges and universities. Because injustice isn’t just a Jewish issue: Once hateful and violent factions are finished with us Jews, everyone else could easily be next.

Adrian Ashkenazy (Harvard ‘96) is a hotel developer and Co-Founder of The Harvard Jewish Alumni Association

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