Statement by Interim Dean Irwin Garfinkel on Recent Hate Crimes

November 12, 2018 @ 10:20 pm

Since Dean Garfinkel composed this message, an anti-Semitic act took place closer to home. On November 28, 2018, an act of vandalism was committed against a Jewish faculty member at Teacher’s College. To the sentiments expressed below, Dean Garfinkel has the following to add: “This latest incident should remind us that we all have a voice, and I encourage you all to use yours to speak out against acts of hatred, remain strong, and know that your classmates, colleagues, and faculty here at Columbia will not remain silent in light of such expressions.”

The killing of 11 Jewish congregants in a synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, last Saturday is but the latest deadly expression of hate in our country. Just in the last week, on Wednesday, two black people were killed at a Kentucky Kroger’s grocery store for being black. And mail bombs were sent to 14 people who’ve been harshly criticized by President Trump.

But this particular hate crime strikes close to home for me. I’m a Jew from Pittsburgh who grew up in Squirrel Hill. Over the weekend, I learned no one I knew was killed. But one half century ago, a few of my cousins were bar mitzvahed at Tree of Life, and I attended my closest cousin’s wedding there. This situation makes me want to cry. I am afraid—not so much for myself but for my country.

Anti-Semitism, like racism, is not new. But I was fortunate enough to come of age when the country moved against hatred and towards love and justice. I’ve taken heart in the victories of the Civil Rights Movement, the early success of the War on Poverty, and most especially, the election of President Barack Obama. These victories for social justice, some large and some small, have sustained my faith in the American Dream through many setbacks.

Today, however, we live in especially dangerous times. Hatred and fear of the other are on the rise—not just in America but across the world. Last week, Brazil elected a president who said he’d rather his son die in a car accident than be gay. The country and the world need leaders who condemn anti-Semitism and racism, and who refuse to appeal to hate.

From Charlottesville to the campaign trail, it is clear that at best, our President speaks with a forked tongue. Trump is not solely responsible for the worldwide rise of hate-based violence, but he stokes hatred and he profits from it. He fits the classic description of a demagogue: a leader who plays on popular prejudices and spreads false claims to consolidate power. We’ve had congressional representatives, senators, and governors who have been demagogues, but we’ve never before, to my knowledge, had a demagogue president.

As a Jewish American kid from 1960s Squirrel Hill, I felt solidarity for African-Americans’ struggle for equality and revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I entered social work with the hope of contributing to the effort to make a more just society. One half century later, we continue that work in dangerous times. As your interim dean, I urge you to get involved, to vote, to donate, and to organize, so that we can sing with faith and confidence that “We shall overcome.”


Columbia students wishing to speak with a counselor for support can contact Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) at 212-854-2878, or Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) Mental Health Services at 212-305-3400. Pastoral counseling and faith-based support are offered by the Office of the University Chaplain. To report an incident of concern or potential bias, contact Columbia Public Safety at 212-854-5555, or 212-305-7979 on the CUMC campus.