The following piece originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post

On the Friday before Yom Kippur, I had the privilege of joining hundreds of Jewish University of Pennsylvania students for a Unity Shabbat. Organized in the wake of an attack on Penn Hillel and ahead of a conference featuring well-known antisemitic speakers, we gathered to light candles, sing, and celebrate Shabbat.

During this holiest time on the Jewish calendar, rather than preparing for the upcoming Yom Kippur fast, this diverse and strong Jewish community was instead focused on fighting antisemitism, preserving a welcoming and safe environment for every Jewish student on campus, and, most importantly, being proudly Jewish.

In the lead-up to last month’s Palestine Writes event, many of Penn’s Jewish students voiced grave concerns about invited speakers with long, established histories of spewing antisemitic hate against Jews and Israel. In raising these concerns with University officials, the students made clear that while they acknowledged the event’s stated goals of celebrating Palestinian arts and culture, it was very upsetting that the organizers chose to provide a platform for speakers with known histories of peddling antisemitism. While University officials – after urging from Jewish student leaders – reaffirmed their commitment to fighting antisemitism, the inclusion of these speakers still sent a chilling message to the campus’ Jewish community.

For college students, campus is not just the center of their academic experience, it is also their home. While campuses should, of course, be places where principles of freedom of speech are honored, universities must speak out forcefully when hate descends on campus. University leadership must make clear that they do not condone any form of hate speech or bigotry, nor do they welcome it on campus. A toxic atmosphere for Jewish students can quickly escalate, as we saw just a day before the Palestine Writes event was set to begin, when someone walked into Penn Hillel shouting antisemitic hate and violently ransacking the lobby.

So, what’s the solution? What did I tell the parents of Jewish students and Penn alumni?

Our best way forward is to empower and support Jewish students. It is their voices and perspectives that are the most powerful in responding to antisemitism on their campus and among their peers.

It is our duty to make sure that the leadership at Penn – and on campuses across the country – fosters an environment that ensures Jewish students’ safety and allows Jewish life to thrive. Simply providing resources isn’t enough. In fact, some of the students at Penn shared that while the university has tremendous resources available for Jewish students, Jewish students are still sometimes afraid to share their connection to Israel in class. Several said that they had been subjected to antisemitic stereotypes or taunts.

Jewish students should never be afraid to express their connection to Israel or be subjected to antisemitic stereotypes.

This is why American Jewish Committee (AJC) has focused deeply on programs that support students and build lasting relationships with Jewish communities on campus as well as university administrators and faculty. This work helped us facilitate a meaningful relationship between students and Penn administrators and allowed AJC experts to directly voice our community’s concerns.

What happened at Penn wasn’t an isolated incident. We’ve seen it before and there will, unfortunately, be more like it throughout the country.

But when we invest in our Jewish students, by giving them the skills, tools, and pride to stand up to antisemitism, we create a long-lasting ripple effect that not only makes a difference on campuses, but also in our community.

I should know – I got my start in advocating for the Jewish people when I was a student at the University of Michigan. And now AJC is creating the next generation of global Jewish leaders.

University leadership has a key role to play here. We won’t leave Jewish students to deal with it on their own. At Penn, we will be with them every step of the way to help President Liz Magill’s recent commitments become reality. We offer our partnership to any campus that is looking to make commitments to strengthening Jewish life and preventing antisemitism.

AJC has been working closely with the White House and other organizations to develop tools and resources for colleges and universities to implement the US National Strategy to Combat Antisemitism, including with our Guide for Higher Education Administration.

We are encouraging universities to adopt a clear understanding of how antisemitism manifests today, and, just as Penn announced last week, incorporate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism into their diversity, equity, and inclusion training for students, faculty, and staff. The IHRA definition is an important tool for campus administrators and other leaders as they work to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and unacceptable statements that cross the line to antisemitism by trafficking in antisemitic tropes or denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

Colleges and universities across the country have an opportunity and responsibility to take bold action and reassert strong commitments to safe and inclusive communities for their Jewish students and faculty.

We’ll be there, to make sure Jewish students have the support they need to counter antisemitism – and to ensure their universities listen and take action.