“I am looking for a community, but I do not fit anywhere.”

I've tried both Shabbat dinners at Hillel and seder on the encampment.

This essay is part of Hey Alma’s series on what it’s like to be a Jewish college student in response to October 7, the 2024 Israel-Hamas war and campus protests. Click here to read the full range of voices.

Oseh shalom bimromav. Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu. V’al kol Yisrael V’imru. Amen.” I mutter this prayer to myself as I walk to class, as I walk back from the dining hall and as I pass the barrages of armed cops that wait to brutalize students outside of the 116th gates.

I pray for peace because I believe in nuance. However, nuance seems to have no place on Columbia’s campus. When I saw protestors hanging a banner from a window proclaiming “Intifada” and chanting “there is only one solution” it was clear to me that they did not know the meaning of those words. When I hear “from the river to the sea” I wonder if pro-Palestinian protestors could tell me which river and which sea they are referring to.

I hear the same extremist rhetoric from the Zionist side as well. I hear pro-Israel protestors conflating all Palestinians with Hamas and weaponizing antisemitism. They defend the horrific and inexcusable actions of the Israeli government against Palestinian civilians.

Neither side is willing to learn or even talk to the other. All I can do in the face of it is cling to the facts I know.

I know that the war waged by the Israeli government and military in Gaza is unspeakably violent. Civilians murdered with impunity will never lead to peace for anyone. Ceasefire. I know that Hamas is a dangerous entity threatening both the Israeli and Palestinian people. Return the hostages.

I know that both Israelis and Palestinians have deep, ancestral claims to the Holy Land. Historical memory, generational trauma and the colonial conditions under British rule created a situation in which two desperate, terrified groups of people were left to fend for themselves.

I know that words and rhetoric have immense power. On my campus, I have seen words twisted and stripped of historical context. I refuse to chant words I do not believe. I know that violence begets violence and hatred begets hatred. I saw the Proud Boys at my gates. I saw a police officer draw a gun on my classmates. I saw neon trucks doxxing the full names and addresses of pro-Palestinian protestors. I saw windows smashed with a hammer. I saw Hillel surrounded by armed guards. I saw the administration suspend and evict students, giving them only fifteen minutes to gather their belongings before being made homeless.

I have learned from my Judaism that you can only answer a question with another question. I want my peers to join me in the question rabbithole. How far can we unravel history until it comes apart in our hands? We should not be afraid of being uncomfortable or being wrong. On my polarized campus there is no margin for error, blocking off all pathways to understanding.

My Judaism is fractured and bent out of shape. I’ve tried both Shabbat dinners at Hillel and seder on the encampment. I am looking for a community, but I do not fit anywhere. Despite this, I hold fast to my Judaism because it has taught me that what matters above all else is tikkun olam: repairing the world. Bombs, violence and blind extremism will never repair this world. I pray for Netanyahu, I pray for Hamas and I pray for my peers to learn that.

— Molly Greenwold from Newton, MA; Barnard College, Class of 2026


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