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The Katz Center and Penn Hillel co-sponsored a talk given by Dara Horn on Jan. 23. 

Credit: Ethan Young

The Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and Penn Hillel held a lecture on Tuesday addressing the rise of antisemitism on Penn’s campus and its connection to broader trends within the national education system.

The event was part of the Katz Center’s new lecture series this semester, entitled “Jews and the University: Antisemitism, Admissions, Academic Freedom.” The lecture at Penn Hillel featured speaker Dara Horn, a member of Harvard University’s advisory group to counter antisemitism and the creative advisor for the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History.

Dorn explored topics related to Penn’s approach to academic freedom, student support, and Jewish education. 

As a member of Harvard's Antisemitism Advisory Group, Dorn was responsible for examining the impact of antisemitism on campus, providing education on the topic, and ensuring student safety. A significant portion of her lecture centered around collegiate universities’ erasure of Jewish identity in education.

“To me, the real question is if hatred comes from ignorance, then why are America’s best universities suddenly following this very specific ignorance?” Horn said during the lecture. “If education is the answer, why are some of the most educated people now celebrating the murder of Jews? Antisemitism is the twilight of thought and the stakes for understanding this are nothing less than the future of intellectual life in America.” 

Placing antisemitism into a broader perspective, Horn addressed the persistence of antisemitism in Western societies throughout history. 

“Antisemitism is not the product of ignorance,” Horn said. “It’s actually the product of intense thought about how to make the world a better place, and the problem is that the whole edifice of thought about improving the world and defending certain ideas is based on the assumption that Jews are the obstacle to society’s ideals. This is a very deep neural groove in Western civilization.”

Other topics discussed in the lecture included the evolution of antisemitic thought in higher education, contemporary erasure of Jewish identity, and the limitations of current approaches to combating antisemitism.

Steven Weitzman, the Ella Darivoff Director of the Katz Center, said that the center created the lecture series in response to controversy on Penn's campus last semester. Funded by the Goldhirsh-Yellin Foundation, the series is intended to bolster public understanding of Jewish identity and culture in America.

“We need to rephrase what a university is about — which is, as Dara Horn said, sometimes being uncomfortable in talking about subjects that may be difficult to talk about and ultimately engaging people with a different point of view,” Weitzman said.

Through the series, he hopes to remedy heightened tensions on campus and offer students the opportunity to learn more about different cultural communities distinct from their own.

“Obviously, it’s uncomfortable for people, but in the discomfort, there’s a chance to actually go a little deeper into understanding other people and understanding this world,” Weitzman said. “I think it will help people embrace the idea that sometimes discomfort has important lessons to teach.”

The series will continue to host lectures over the course of upcoming months, analyzing the history and present state of Jewish life at universities. On Feb. 7, the Katz Center will host speaker Pamela Nadell, the Patrick Clendenen Chair of women’s history at American University, to examine the impact of antisemitism on the study of American Jewish history.