Associated Students established a Jewish Commission in Spring Quarter 2023 to support Jewish students and bring greater education on Jewish culture to UC Santa Barbara’s campus.
Associated Students (A.S.) Jewish Commission Chair Tom Hirshfeld said the various antisemitic incidents in Isla Vista during the 2022-23 year highlighted the need for an administrative body advocating for Jewish students and triggered the creation of the commission.
“The first purpose of the Jewish commission is to advocate for the needs of Jewish students on campus,” Hirshfeld said. “That means if there’s religious issues for practicing Jewish students or antisemitism that rears its head on campus, we want to be the ones in A.S. fighting against it.”
A.S. Boards and Commissions exist at UCSB to create a safe space for students of different groups and educate the campus community about issues those groups face.
“The A.S. Jewish Commission sends a very singular message, which is that Associated Students, the student body at large, cares about Jewish students and cares about how they integrate into the broader campus community,” said A.S. Off-Campus Senator and Senate First President Pro Tempore Ephraim Shalunov, who wrote the founding legislation for the commission.
The commission currently has a functioning board of six members. Hirshfeld said the group is looking to expand to collaborate with other cultural organizations alongside its main mission of cultural education and community support.
“The Jewish Commission provides the Jewish community at UCSB with a really exciting opportunity,” he continued. “I want the Jewish commission to work in collaboration with other cultural organizations to kind of weave us into this multicultural tapestry that already exists at UCSB.”
Week-to-week operations of the commission break into proactive and reactive operations. The proactive activities include interacting and collaborating with other boards, commissions and units and other Registered Campus Organizations, while the group’s reactive operations more surround responding to antisemitic events.
However, while the group will take action if further local antisemitism occurs, Hirshfeld emphasized that a major aspect of the commission is to spark discussions of Jewish people on campus independent from the antisemitism they face.
“On this campus, we talk about Jews, up until now, only when there’s conflict,” Hirschfield said. “Defining a people based on their oppression is inherently reductive to that people, and so I want to reframe the conversations we have on this campus about Jewish people by highlighting the positives of our culture instead of the negativity we sometimes experience.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the Oct. 5, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.