UTD student shares ups and downs of freshman year
Photo: Courtesy Cara Mendelsohn
Jade Steinberg speaks at a news conference May 8, 2024 on UTD’s campus explaining Jewish students’ concerns since the Israel Hamas war started following Hamas’ brutal terror attack Oct. 7, 2023.

See related story p. 8:
Hillels of North Texas welcomes new executive director

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

One short year ago, Jade Steinberg graduated from high school and envisioned what life would be like on the University of Texas at Dallas campus.

As the semester got underway, Steinberg, 18, was getting into a routine, learning how to juggle his course load and extracurricular activities. 

College was fun.

Then, the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and ensuing war between Israel and Hamas happened. Life at UTD changed dramatically.

“The climate (changed) from this fun place to learn into this place where I didn’t feel welcomed,” Steinberg said. “The best way I can describe it is that everything got darker.”

UTD has a small but active Jewish community of around 100 people. On the other hand, the pro-Palestinian community numbers in the thousands.

Steinberg had already started going to some Hillel Shabbats before Oct. 7 and afterward, he invested himself more fully. Hillel was holding many de-stress events. One of Steinberg’s favorites was when the students gathered and built Legos.

“It was an effort to foster community,” he said. “It was a huge thing because we didn’t know where this was going (the war and anti-Israel sentiment on campus), but we knew we needed to stick together.”

By the beginning of the spring semester, Steinberg founded himself the newly elected Hillel president. He had spent winter break trying to assess what the mood on campus would be and how he could help meet the needs of his fellow Jewish students. 

“I was thinking, I know it’s gonna get worse. I could never have foreseen the (May 1) encampments, but I could foresee the constant protests, them (anti-Israel protesters) getting upset with the administration for not meeting their demands.”

Steinberg said he wondered how Hillel could “not only embolden our community, but also try to slow down or even halt the rapid growth of antisemitism.”

He said that for him and other Jewish students, just walking on campus from class to class was a daily exercise in harassment. When they saw him, for example, they would take out their phones and start recording him. He also received online threats via social media including some death threats. 

Steinberg said that he asked Jewish students in a chat group what word best described the atmosphere for Jewish students on campus and overwhelmingly the response was “terrifying.” Most of the students said their academic performance had been affected by at least a half letter grade.

Author’s on-campus event

Steinberg remained committed to trying to educate the UTD community and foster unity in his role as Hillel president. He said that UTD and Hillel hosted a forum with Sarah Hurwitz in April. Hurwitz is the author of “Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There).” She was also a speechwriter for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Steinberg said that the talk was heavily promoted on campus through UTD’s media resources. One frustration was that every time Hillel put a poster up about the event, it was torn down. Nevertheless, he deemed it a “successful and positive event.” He said about 30 people attended, and about 10 of them were not Jewish. He said that the student newspaper, The Mercury, covered the speech and it was nice to see them cover “the Jewish people in a positive light which was not something they had been doing recently.” 

Steinberg said that throughout the semester his mission was to embrace the unity of the Jewish people and advocate for them.

Steinberg and a fellow student, Ofer Turjeman, who is the president of UTD Chabad, spoke with UTD President Richard Benson about making UTD safer for Jews on campus in early May. 

Steinberg said they told Benson, “Campus is not safe. We feel harmed, threatened and harassed, As Jewish students, we don’t feel like we are able to get equal access to education.” 

Steinberg said Benson told the students that UTD was at the “tail end” in the process of adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and that it should be in place by the fall semester. They also discussed GA-44. Governor Abbot’s executive order addressing antisemitism on Texas’ college campuses.

Steinberg told the TJP the most of the antisemitic rhetoric is coming from UTD’s very active SJP chapter. Benson said that the Students for Justice of Palestine chapter was being monitored.

He also said he understands the balancing act that the UTD administration is navigating balancing free speech and Abbott’s executive order. 

“It’s not a system in which things happen really quickly.”

That being said, Steinberg said he came away from the meeting feeling like UTD’s administration was taking Jewish students’ and all students’ concerns seriously.

“The university is at least trying to support all students. I’m not just gonna say (just) us because that’s not their job to support only one group

“We are just really hoping that campus can return to a state of somewhat normalcy soon.”

Leave a Reply