Jewish students to organize Jews 4 Justice

When junior Ethan Schatz arrived at DePaul, he looked for Jewish spaces immediately on campus.

He said he needed a community where Jewish students could come together in solidarity as anti-Zionists.

After joining DePaul Hillel two years ago and being recently removed from his board position by Metro Hillel Chicago, Schatz said he used the catalyst to start the space he always wanted. 

“As soon as I saw the options for Jewish students on campus,” Schatz said. “I had already started dreaming of a club like this.”

Metro Hillel Chicago did not respond to The DePaulia despite multiple requests for comment via phone and email.

Emily Lightman, a DePaul Hillel board member, said Hillel’s mission involves diverse perspectives. 

As a student leader with Hillel, I am proud to say that Hillel is more than just a space for programming, but an open and welcoming community for students. We strive to create an environment where diverse perspectives are celebrated and encouraged, and we value respectful dialogue,” Lightman said. “Justice work is intrinsic to the Jewish tradition and Tzedek (Justice) is one of the five central pillars of Hillel’s mission. Engaging in meaningful conversations while treating each other with kindness, empathy, and respect is a core value to Hillel and important to form a strong, connected campus community.”

Schatz, Owen Howard and Ezra Adamski launched “Jews 4 Justice,” a dedicated Jewish space that will explore activism and solidarity with anti-Zionist beliefs. 

“I think there’s power in numbers and in solidarity and Jewish students,” Schatz said. “The answer to fighting antisemitism on campus is solidarity, not hiding behind Zionism.”

The Wall Street Journal cited DePaul in an article about rising antisemitism on college campuses in December 2022. 

There are three Jewish organizations on campus including Hillel, Chabad and Alpha Epsilon Pi. Students can go to the Jewish Life Space on the third floor of the DePaul Lincoln Park Student Center. 

However, Howard said the Jewish Life Space has changed during his time at DePaul. 

“I was here four years ago, and it was a very vibrant and very lively place in the Jewish life center, but [now] it is absent with no staff, which leaves us to feel unsafe,” Howard said. “My first year there was somebody staffed there all the time. There was a student worker at the desk. There were like posters for each individual club.”

Jews 4 Justice aims to fill that gap, according to Schatz. Adamski feels there is an intersection between Judaism and social justice organizing. 

“If we look at Jews, and politics and organizing work historically, and also contemporarily, so many of them go back to Jewish values and how they have influenced organizing work,” Adamski said. 

Adamski felt the Jewish groups on campus did not reflect his values. 

“The problem is, as has been pointed out, time and time again, already in this interview, the two main options for Jewish life on campus do not reflect those political values for me,” Adamski said. 

Jews 4 Justice focuses its values on solidarity being “Pro-Jewish, unequivocally anti-Capitalist, anti-Imperialist, unequivocally anti-Israel,” according to the group’s ideological statements. 

“[We want to] create a Jewish space for Jewish leisure, spirituality, education, and community not oriented around the support or normalization of Israeli occupation,” Howard said. 

They plan to work with groups on campus that support their mission like Students for Justice in Palestine. 

We want to incorporate our spiritual cultural identities into those movements without making it seem like we’re only Jewish for this,” Howard said. “[We also want to focus on] fostering in our community relationships with other ethnic cultural minority groups in order to recognize and fight our shared struggle against capitalism and imperialism. So those are the two things we aim to do.”

Chicago Synagogue declared itself as anti-Zionist last year, and there are national groups like Jewish Voices for Peace that overlap political activism and religion. 

Schatz said he felt inspired by other groups on campus who were committed to activism in the community. 

“There are already so many cool people doing cool stuff on campus that are also fighting white supremacy and normalcy at its largest,” Schatz said. 

Out of the 24 religious/spiritual groups on campus, 12 of the groups are Catholic, Christian or Vincentian, according to DeHUB. DePaul Hillel, Chabad, Jewish Life Office and Decalogue Society of Lawyers are Jewish groups on campus. 

“We should be able to have a Jewish community built by us, for us, that reflects our values,” Schatz said. “Jewish students deserve options about which group they want to join.”

This story was updated to include a student statement sent after publication.