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Jewish College Students Under Siege

 Lenore E. A. Walker, Ed.D.

Fighting antisemitism in clinical practice

By Liya Levanda, Psy.D.



Jewish college students

under siege


Lenore E. A. Walker, Ed.D.

    Jewish college students, faculty, and their families are under siege across the U.S., and most psychologists are ill-prepared to help them deal with the trauma from the antisemitism they are experiencing. Antisemitic acts, including the destruction of property, exclusion from activities, conspiracy theories, and other tropes against Jews, have been steadily increasing with the attempts to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Israel during the past decade. Although initially designed to persuade the Israeli government to treat the Palestinians better, it has grown into expressed hate towards all Jews. The October 7th Hamas terrorist sexual violence and massacre of 1200 Jews in Israel and the subsequent Hamas-Israel war caused antisemitism in the U.S. to rise almost 400%, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Calls of death to the Jews and destruction of Israel are loudly being proclaimed by those who support them. Most Jews support the existence of Israel as a place where Jews can escape from antisemitism, especially since these events had awakened intergenerational memories of the Holocaust, where six million Jews were exterminated when other countries, including the U.S., refused them entry. Many Jews fear the death slogans might come true. Thus, they need overt declarations and actions from allies indicating support and protection from those whose words and behavior are reminiscent of what happened in the 1930s and 1940s. Some suggest the Kraft Foundation’s blue square campaign on every door or the Academic Engagement Network’s (AEN’s) posters may be one way to signify support.


    University Presidents seem to have trouble controlling the encampments

and violence erupting today on many campuses because they can’t distinguish

antisemitic from free speech. In some ways, it feels like protests against the

Vietnam War in the 1960s, although this time, the enemy is all Jews, not just the

Israeli government.

     Compounding the fears of many Jews is the lack of support and even

condemnation with untruths about the need to stop the terrorists in the

Middle East. Dialogue and negotiations are needed so that different nations can

co-exist peacefully. Relatively quiet campuses are those where the administration

has scheduled discussion groups so that students and faculty with different opinions

can express them without resorting to antisemitism and other forms of violence.


     Trauma treatment can help alleviate some anxiety for those students and faculty who have been traumatized by the antisemitism they have experienced. However, therapy cannot replace the support of other similar-minded Jews and allies. The Association of Jewish Psychologists (AJP), a new organization of Jewish mental health professionals and allies, has trained its members in administering Psychological First Aid groups modeled after programs used in other disasters, such as the Hawaii fires, the Ukraine war, and the building collapse in Miami. Working with Hillel, AJP has conducted more than 40 Zoom groups of students and parents a week for several months. For many, it has been a lifeline, giving them the strength to continue their studies. AJP is now looking for funding to continue the successful program. 

    Also recommended is connecting with other supportive people and programs on campuses. The (AEN) is providing support for Jewish faculty on campuses that are under siege and encouraging supportive faculty allies to post signs on their doors to indicate their support of Jewish faculty and students. Others are developing training modules, including information about Jewish history, culture, and customs, to assist trauma therapists in adding Jewish trauma treatment to their practice.

     Those interested can find more information by visiting the AJP website,

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Lenore E. A. Walker, Ed.D., is a Professor Emerita from Nova Southeastern University College of Psychology, where she trained clinical and forensic psychologists. She is a co-founder and Treasurer of the Association of Jewish Psychologists that is fighting against antisemitism. She has a part-time independent practice in clinical forensic psychology specializing in interpersonal gender violence cases. She is often a keynote speaker and workshop leader in areas of domestic abuse, battered woman syndrome, rape and sexual assault, exploitation and harassment, trafficking, and child abuse. Currently, she is publishing murder mysteries with Dr. Ariel Lewis, her character who tries to solve crimes. Her email is, and her website is

Fighting antisemitism in clinical practice

By Liya Levanda, Psy.D.


     Like a boulder plunked into a pond, the 2023 Israel-Hamas war has seen dramatic rippling effects around the world. The latest addition to the centuries-long history of the Middle East has sent deep rifts through the greater global community as the world is brutally reminded of the weight, nuance, and trauma surrounding the land that both Jews and Palestinians call their ancestral, indigenous home. Of particular concern, the war has also triggered skyrocketing rates of both antisemitism and Islamophobia around the world. In the United States, both antisemitism and Islamophobia are at all-time highs, as reported by their respective record-keeping bodies, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). 

    As mental health professionals, we cannot remain silent bystanders in the face of prejudice, and we are in a unique position to make meaningful contributions to this fight. Both Islamophobia and antisemitism require individualized attention and advocacy. Based on the writer's experience and areas of expertise, this article will primarily focus on the latter. As many mental health professionals report a perceived lack of knowledge about antisemitism or how to fight it, this article outlines the initial steps individuals can take to combat antisemitism. 

    The first step to addressing antisemitism is acknowledging our antisemitism, which is often profoundly subconscious. Not unlike racism and other learned forms of discrimination, antisemitism is rarely apparent. "Antisemitism dresses for the occasion," says Vlad Khaykin, National Director of Antisemitism Programming for the ADL. It is easy to spot antisemitism when it shows up in cargo shorts and flip-flops at a black-tie event. Antisemitism is known for following the metaphorical dress code: it blends in well because it is insidious and chameleonic, dressed in the same fashion as everyone else. Like switching on a UV light in a public space, when one's mind becomes attuned to this phenomenon, antisemitism is suddenly visible everywhere, from media to the news to discussion of the Middle East. The good news is that data supports the idea that it does not take overwhelming effort to address one's own antisemitic biases, as research out of the ADL in 2023 found that simply learning about antisemitism showed a reduction of antisemitic bias.

    The next step applies to the public but is especially relevant to psychology, including Jews under the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) umbrella. Ethical codes for mental health professionals often mandate the continued push for cultural competence and social justice values. Jews are usually excluded from DEI due to the false belief that "all" Jews are white and are thus incapable of experiencing oppression.

     In Elizabeth Redden's reporting for Inside Higher Ed, formal complaints filed against the Stanford University Counseling Center's DEI committee stated, "DEI committee members reasoned that because Jews, unlike other minority groups, possess privilege and power, Jews and victims of Jew-hatred do not merit or necessitate the attention of the DEI committee." 

     Such rationale is dangerous in proliferating antisemitism tropes of Jewish

power and immunity from discrimination and oppression. It is vital to acknowledge

that because America was built on racism, its systemic presence continues

to oppress people of color to this day, and people with light skin, regardless  

of their identity, benefit from white privilege. In this way, Jews with light skin

benefit from privilege in America, but it is essential to know that Jews come

from all colors and ethnicities, and it is incorrect to state that all Jews are white.

Despite this privilege that some Jews may experience, Jews are consistently

overrepresented in hate crime statistics. Antisemitic acts consistently represent

more than half of all hate crimes against religious groups in the U.S., despite Jews

comprising only about 2.4% of the American population. In short, Jews are a minority

group who are all too often victims of discrimination despite frequently benefiting from white privilege and must be included under DEI umbrellas in fighting all forms of oppression.

    So, you may be asking, what can I do? Just like antisemitism needs to be taken seriously in DEI spaces, antisemitism needs to be taken just as seriously when it comes to your professional or personal life. The first step is believing Jews when they tell you about antisemitism. A common antisemitic trope is denying Jewish trauma, from casual antisemitism to the Holocaust, to the point where many Jews almost expect not to be believed if they come forward. We know from the literature on trauma that not being believed adversely impacts a survivor's healing and that legitimizing responses can improve outcomes. 

    Secondly, antisemitism needs to be called out and responded to with the same intention and conviction that other acts of discrimination should be handled. If antisemitism goes unchecked, it sets an uncomfortable and problematic norm for a space in normalizing such conduct. That said, the counterpart to naming antisemitism is responding to it, and antisemitism is often swept under the rug when it is reported. Whether it's an update in clinic policies, taking appropriate formal or informal disciplinary action, or considering additional security, swift and effective responses to antisemitism or discrimination need to become part of our new normal.

    Finally, one of the best and perhaps most straightforward ways to combat antisemitism is interpersonally: to connect with your sense of shared humanity by checking in, empathizing, and learning from Jewish people about antisemitism. Experiencing discrimination is an objectively upsetting and potentially traumatizing experience. Check on the Jewish people in your life, whether they are colleagues, patients, or friends. Something as simple as engaging in active listening and offering sympathy and support can go a long way, and offering advocacy can go even further. Being such a minority, Jewish people often feel isolated and alone, and this feeling has only been exacerbated during the war. Fighting antisemitism can also look like fostering a sense of community.

     Jews deserve to be fully embraced, with the freedom to define their own Judaism, rather than being scapegoated and ostracized by those who protest Israel and demand unequivocal disavowal of Israel as the only acceptable stance for a Jew to have. In a world of dehumanization, everyone, including Jews, deserves to be treated as a human being.

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Liya Levanda, Ph. D., is a psychologist and speaker specializing in Jewish clinical issues, including antisemitism. She serves with the Association of Jewish Psychologists, providing training for CE providers in healthcare settings and universities.

She may be reached by email at

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