Last semester, the University of Nevada, Reno had multiple reported cases of swastikas being found around campus, in addition to white supremacist flyers. Our bilingual student reporter Andrew Mendez sat down with Atty Garfinkle-Berry, the director of Hillel of Northern Nevada to get an understanding of how these acts affect the Jewish community.
KUNR: Atty, with so many expressions of hate happening in the past few months, how has it impacted the Jewish community and the students of Hillel?
Garfinkle-Berry: When we have that much going on at one time on a campus, it's going to create some negative emotions. And we have some students that respond with "The people of Israel live" [spoken in Hebrew], and we have other people who take off their kippahs and take off their highs and their stars and hide who they are, or some people that get mad and get loud.
KUNR: Why do you think we're seeing a rise in antisemitic rhetoric on campus?
Garfinkle-Berry: Well, it's not just us, it's across the country and every single local Hillel has been dealing with it. And a lot of people don't understand who or what Jews are. And it's easy to blame the other. And in general, when you're dealing with religious groups, you tend to have a dominant perception of one particular type of person, and Jews don't necessarily fit that stereotype.
KUNR: Back in 2017 Peter Cvjetanovic was a UNR student who attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. The photo taken of him at the event was used nationally across media stations and was even used as a front cover of the Anti-Defamation Leagues' 2017 report. Atty, did what happen in 2017 allow antisemitic rhetoric to be seen as acceptable at UNR?
Garfinkle-Berry: I don't think it had as much to do with Peter specifically as it has to do with a rising national sentiment that a lot of people who identify as white Anglo Saxon, Protestant, whatever, often don't understand that people having equity does not infringe on their rights. And it's become so customary for a lot of people to feel entitled to certain things that when someone else has those things as well, it can feel like your status is being threatened, and that's really just not the case. In reality, we have a very diverse society and the United States has always been a fairly diverse society, just not diverse in power.
KUNR: With the recent resignation of Marc Johnson, the university's president, what are you hoping the new president will do to combat these issues on an administrative level?
Garfinkle-Berry: One of the things that we've had some issues with previously on this campus has been a very cookie-cutter approach and we don't need that at this point. We need people who do understand what the actual issues are, but we also need people that are willing to challenge the status quo and not everybody is willing to do that. Let's get some adequate representation of the student body in both the faculty and staff, but also in the administration.
KUNR: Atty, before we run out of time, is there anything else you would like to add?
Garfinkle-Berry: I think that in general if people understood that it's not about taking anything away from anybody else. It's literally about, you know, that time when you're in kindergarten and they said everybody, you know, sit in a circle and no, don't poke him, be nice to her, share the blocks. This is the same lesson that people have been being taught since kindergarten and at some point in time, people have to put themselves aside and put themselves in each other's shoes and say, it's time to talk. And if you forget how to talk, then it's time to listen.