By Dina Barrish
Pretending to be a student reporter, Steven Mendelsohn followed behind a pro-Palestine protest at his school. He took pictures, jotted down the chants and asked bystanders to describe their take on the situation and how the demonstration made them feel.
“People said [the protest] felt violent and scary,” said Mendelsohn, a sophomore at Texas A&M University. “My heart rate was pretty high. It was loud and obnoxious. People were leaving buildings, saying ‘What’s going on?’”
Like Mendelsohn, many college students across the country have experienced anti-Israel and antisemitic events on their campuses after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. Fortunately, the protest Mendelsohn documented was an isolated event at A&M. The College Station university largely supports Israel and aims to strengthen the resolve of Jewish students.
“I feel exceedingly safe,” Mendelsohn said.
On Oct. 12, nearly 500 Jewish and non-Jewish A&M students joined a silent march down the main university road in solidarity with Israel, Mendelsohn said. Churches across campus encouraged attendance, and many student organizations arrived wearing their group’s T-shirts. Even the entire swim team participated. A few days later, less than 200 students attended the pro-Palestine rally.
“I was like, ‘Woah,”’ Mendelsohn said. “I didn’t know if I needed the event to feel comforted, but afterwards, I felt super-confident.”
Avram Prager is the president of A&M’s Students Supporting Israel (SSI), the organization that planned the silent march.
“My first shock was seeing the sheer magnitude of people who were there, filling the entire plaza,” Prager said. “Even using a widescreen lens, I couldn’t capture the number of people, people willing to put themselves and their student org on the line to stand for us and for peace, who aren’t willing to just go along with all the antisemitic rhetoric.”
A conservative Christian women’s group at the university held a prayer vigil for Israel, and Prager and Mendelsohn said many Jewish students attended to bolster their numbers.
“I’ve had Christian people reaching out offering to help our students and wanting to check in on our students,” said Risa Bierman, executive director at A&M’s Hillel. “I had a counselor say she wanted to help our students in whatever way that she could.”
Bierman said she called the university vice president’s office to see if there was an increase in hate crimes reported by students, and there was not.
“It’s a nice, safer, calmer campus for Jewish students to come,” Bierman said. “You have a supportive Jewish community, a supportive campus community and we’re not dealing with some of the issues that we’re seeing across the country.”
On Nov. 29 Bierman picked up doughnuts with Emily Chilton, A&M Hillel’s student president, for a “donut hate” event on campus in conjunction with SSI. Bierman said they asked students to take a pledge against hate and emphasized that hate is not an Aggie value.
When one of Chilton’s peers sent a text message about the pro-Israel march in her apartment building’s group chat, she received hateful backlash.
“But people didn’t act on their words,” Chilton said. “Jewish students are still prioritizing safety and being cautious, but for the most part, everything has been very peaceful.”
Two weeks ago, Chilton said a non-Jewish acquaintance in her class asked how she was doing. “Obviously, she didn’t have to say something,” Chilton said. “But this is just another example of people being supportive.”
Prager said his professor attended the march, and Mendelsohn’s friend, who’s been wearing a kippah since before Oct. 7, has a teacher’s assistant who repeatedly asks if he is OK. Mendelsohn also often wears a kippah around campus.
“I’ve been super-comforted,” Mendelsohn said. “A&M has been an incredible campus for all of this.”