A Community Response to War

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A casual observer of American institutions of higher education might wonder what impact a violent conflict nearly 6,000 miles away could have on any of the bucolic campuses across the United States.

For Colgate chaplains Rabbi Barry Baron and Imam Ahmet Celik, who routinely work together, the answer is all too clear.

“We have students here with family in Israel. Someone’s brother is serving in the Israeli Defence Forces right now, and we have students with relatives in Gaza right now. These situations are all too real,” said Baron. “We have to look out for all of our students, and I am passionate about our doing so.”

And while conflict rages on the other side of the world, recent incidents of antisemitism and anti-Muslim bias and have had a chilling effect in communities across America. 

Just days after after Hamas militants stormed Israel, killing innocent civilians and military targets alike, the Colgate Jewish Union and Colgate Chabad chapter hosted a vigil in front of Colgate Memorial Chapel, where hundreds of students, faculty, and staff gathered to pay their respects to the lives lost in those first days of war.

“Some students are not feeling comfortable, particularly as we have seen incidents around the country of people targeting Muslims. This week, I am taking a lot more time to check in on students to make sure they are ok,” said Celik. “My main goal is to have students be aware that this will pass. For now, it is a problem, but this is not a permanent problem.”

Celik said Colgate’s Muslim community often gathers after the Friday Jummah prayer sessions to share lunch and talk. He said simply being with one another helps. 

“In our sermons and conversations, we always state that any attack on civilians — both in Israel and in Gaza — can never be accepted,” Celik said. “We need to understand each other and express more support for each other in this time of crisis. It’s so important that we come together.”

As the University has done in previous times of conflict, faculty are creating educational moments to help the community understand the complex history of a region of the world that has seen so much violence throughout the years.

On Thursday, Oct. 12, the University hosted a virtual conversation with the award winning author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, and on Tuesday, Oct. 24, the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program will host a special panel discussion on campus with Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies Daniella Doron, the George R. and Myra T. Cooley Chair in Peace and Conflict Studies Daniel Monk, Associate Professor of Political Science Bruce Rutherford, and Associate Professor of History and Director of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Noor-Aiman Khan.

“This is expected to go on for a while,” said Baron. “We anticipate that there will be a need for more student-focused events, but we have spent a lot of energy in a short period of time. The best thing we can do now is watch, talk with students, and see what is next. It’s driven by students. It’s driven by the campus community.”

Khan said she has been heartened by the support for faculty in Middle East and Islamic studies, but that she continues to worry about the impact the conflict will have on students.

“I know President Casey has reached out to students and faculty members, and I say that, within the limits of what’s possible at Colgate, certainly what can be done is being done. Much of the stress is from the larger context, both national and global, and the very real worry of people for their families,” said Khan.