Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, spoke with Arutz Sheva - Israel National News about his trip to Israel and the challenges American Jews face in light of the war.

“We don’t have much antisemitism on our campus,” he said thankfully, “But I do have an insight into what’s going on in other campuses. After the war started, I started a coalition of over 100 college presidents to sign the statement ‘Standing With Israel Against Hamas’. When some presidents can’t state with moral clarity that they stand with Israel, it is important to show that many presidents can.”

The issue of Israel has become one of the most divisive the academic community has ever seen. “I have spoken with college presidents all across the country, and they tell me that this is the most divisive thing ever to happen on their campus because it splits the student body. Most of the time, all of the college is on one side of an issue; here, it divides the students within the campus.”

He links the phenomenon to two main causes. “Antisemitism is real. Several presidents told me that for the first time, they are seeing that antisemitism was hiding, and now has a chance to be exposed, so that for the first time they are seeing antisemitic groups on campus.”

“The second thing is that college students are ignorant. They actually don’t know, and they are getting fed through social media instead of looking to older generations. When they see the pictures of the Palestinians in Gaza, they don’t know the deep historical background behind it and feel sorry for the Palestinians, making them quick to join Palestinian groups and take on Hamas symbols.”

In terms of practical actions, Rabbi Berman has some suggestions. “Colleges need to police demonstrations more carefully. Students who feel that there is a demonstration that physically threatens them can go to their campus police and report that they have been a victim of a hate crime. It does not depend on ‘context’.”

“The second thing is education. We need to educate people as to what Hamas is - a terrorist organization whose mission is to destroy Israel. We have said many times that people can take a pro-Palestinian position if they want, but everyone needs to be anti-Hamas.”

Education, he clarifies, is not only for the general public but for Jewish students in particular. “We need to teach Jewish students not only about the events but about the values. Our school’s basketball team is coming to Israel to help support the troops and raise the morale, and the best thing about that is the values for which they stand. The team has worn hostage jerseys since October 7th, and we stand very firmly with those values.”

“Some people are told to take off their kippah, to hide. That is tremendously problematic. We stand for truth, for Jewish pride, for Israel, and we believe in our message to the world. Messages are being sent to the students that need to be reversed, like when they’re told to take off their kippah or when there’s a threat to the Hillel office and we tell them to stay home instead of having the entire campus come and stand there to say ‘We are not going to allow this’. Our students are ambassadors of Torah, and they should stand out there, and people will be interested in hearing them.”

He admits that as bad as things are, they could still get worse. “This has to come with tremendous advocacy and fighting antisemitism every step of the way, but we cannot let that deter us from our mission.’

He talked about Yeshiva University’s part in the mass rally for Israel in Washington DC. “When they called that rally, they didn’t know who was going to attend. We immediately canceled classes for that day and began bringing in thousands of students, faculty, and alumni. This let other schools and denominations see that we were canceling classes and inspired them to act as well. When people see others act, they get inspired, and it is so important for the pro-Israel base to stand together throughout the world.”

Rabbi Berman recounted his own experiences on the day of the massacre. “I was in Jerusalem for Simchat Torah. When we heard the sirens, someone told my son - who is an IDF soldier - that he should go back to the and check his phone, and he had indeed been called up to active combat service. He took his clothes and bag on Shabbat, and I hugged him and sent him off. I was thinking that for all these years, I’ve been trying to protect him, and now he’s going out to protect me.”

“I went back to America the next day because my mission was there. I felt the need to rally the pro-Israel community and, as much as possible, to be a voice here. Yeshiva University is on all the major news sites, and it's both a battle and a tremendous opportunity to express the truth for anyone who has a platform.”

Rabbi Berman praises the Jewish unity since the massacre. “Jewish hearts are open today more than at any time since the Six-Day War. We’ve brought one hundred students this time, not just the basketball team, because they simply could not sit at home. We like to say that when you study engineering, no one expects you to be a triangle, but when you study Torah, you need to live a life of Torah, and that is what they are doing here - learning how they should react to a crisis as future leaders of the Jewish people. It is very much a part of their education, and we need to hold onto that unity.”

The influence of the nation’s unity goes well beyond just the Jewish community. “It’s not just Jewish students either. Universities throughout America are being shown to be morally bankrupt, even if they still have very large endowments, and students are starting to ask - what are the values we stand for? Other universities are turning to the Jewish people about the values of truth, what is good and what is evil. We have an opportunity to speak about those values, and people are listening. There is a search for meaning right now, and Israel and the Jewish people have a chance to uniquely position ourselves.’