February 27, 2015

Prayers Against Hate to combat anti-semitism on social media

Calvert House, the Catholic student center, hosted a prayer gathering Thursday evening in response to posts on social media that the event’s organizers characterized as hate speech against Jewish students on campus.

Last Friday, a post was put on the anonymous Facebook page UChicago Secrets about Northwestern student government’s vote to divest from several American companies that the resolution’s supporters say violate Palestinians’ human rights. A contentious series of posts on that page and Yik Yak targeted Jewish students at UChicago.

One post on UChicago Secrets characterized Hillel and other Jewish groups on campus as “genocide apologists,” and another called “Jews at U-Chicago” hypocrites. A post on Yik Yak Monday referenced the Holocaust and made a threat against Jewish students.

“After hearing about what was being said on social media over the weekend, and discussion with some of the religious advisers and the staff at Hillel, we wanted to do something for the community: to show that we don’t stand with hate speech, that we stand with solidarity with those who are victims of it and that we pray for an end to words of hate,” Calvert House’s associate Director, Elizabeth Weigel said.

The event, which lasted about a quarter of an hour, was put on in collaboration with Hillel and other religious organizations on campus. A few dozen students gathered for the event in Bartlett quad, where they stood in a circle and sheltered candles from the wind. Weigel and Calvert House’s director and chaplain, Father Patrick Lagges, spoke briefly to begin the ceremony.

Candles were lit and passed around the circle of students. Selections from Psalms, as well as poems by St. Francis and Maya Angelou, were read by attendees. Rabbi Anna Levin Rosen, director of Jewish student life at Hillel, closed the ceremony by contrasting the anonymity of the online posts with the decision by the staff of Calvert House to reach out to Hillel in person.