Harvard Menorah Lighting Ceremony Sparks Debate Over Campus Leadership

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    CAMBRIDGE, MA – A menorah lighting ceremony at Chabad of Harvard has ignited a fiery controversy that is spreading across Jewish social media platforms. The event, which took place recently on the Harvard University campus, has attracted attention and criticism due to the presence of Claudia Gay, a figure facing recent backlash for her stance on certain sensitive issues.

    This firestorm of controversy traces its roots back to the events of October, particularly the Hamas-led attack on Israel. Claudia Gay, whose academic career has been marred by controversies, came under intense scrutiny for what some saw as her failure to wholeheartedly condemn the attacks. Among her critics was former Harvard President Lawrence Summers.

    Fast forward to December 2023, during a hearing of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Gay found herself under even more intense scrutiny. Some members of Congress accused her of not doing enough to combat and condemn antisemitism within the Harvard campus community. During a particularly eyebrow-raising exchange with U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Gay made statements that added fuel to the fire. She suggested that calls for the genocide of Jewish people “can be” considered a violation of Harvard’s code of conduct, but she quickly added that it depends on the context. Gay later clarified her stance, stating, “Antisemitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation — that is actionable conduct, and we do take action.”

    In response to the criticism she received following the hearing, Gay issued an apology. She released a statement asserting that some individuals had conflated the right to free expression with Harvard’s stance on calls for violence against Jewish students.

    The House Education and the Workforce Committee subsequently initiated an investigation into the learning environments and disciplinary policies at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), citing allegations of antisemitism on their campuses.

    In a surprising twist, over 700 of Harvard’s 2,452 faculty members signed a letter opposing calls for Gay’s removal as university president. Additionally, the Executive Committee of Harvard’s Alumni Association expressed unanimous and unwavering support for Gay’s leadership, commending her for safeguarding academic freedom and students’ right to voice their opinions.

    Just one week after the congressional hearing, the Harvard Corporation made a decisive announcement. They declared their unanimous support for Gay’s continued presidency after extensive deliberations. In a statement, they remarked, “President Gay has apologized for how she handled her congressional testimony and has committed to redoubling the University’s fight against antisemitism.”

    Amidst this ongoing controversy, Rabbi Shmuli Boteach weighed in, sharing his perspective and emphasizing the importance of leadership and moral courage. Rabbi Boteach called for rabbinical leaders on campuses to take a clear and unwavering stance: “Defend calls for a Holocaust of the Jews, and we will make sure you are canceled and fired.”

    Many argue that the Jewish community at Harvard is the true victim in this situation. Rabbi Zarchi, as a leader of the Jewish community, had an obligation to stand up, and that’s precisely what he did. He invited Claudia Gay to the menorah lighting for the very purpose of addressing and confronting the issue of antisemitism. In his words, “Light is more powerful than darkness. The eyes of the world are upon us, and we need to take a stand.” Rabbi Zarchi is being lauded for his role in defending the community and sparking this crucial conversation.

     

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    Israel on Campus highlighted a significant moment from Rabbi Zarchi’s speech, underscoring how he was required to take down the menorah due to concerns about antisemitism and potential riots. They pointed out that Jewish students on campus are living in fear of displaying Jewish symbols in public. They argue that Rabbi Zarchi is the clear victim in this situation. His invitation to Claudia Gay for the menorah lighting was seen as a diplomatic approach to addressing current antisemitism while recognizing the challenges of the situation. By working within the existing parameters, Rabbi Zarchi aimed to initiate a dialogue and confront the pressing issue of antisemitism on campus.

     

     

    As the controversy continues to unfold, numerous individuals remain staunch in their support of Rabbi Zarchi. This ongoing debate underscores the intricate intersection of free speech, leadership, and the fight against hatred within the academic community.

    In a powerful speech at Harvard’s Widener Library, Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi of Harvard Chabad addressed the university’s stance on antisemitism, highlighting the challenges faced by Jewish students and calling for a transformative shift towards a more accepting campus environment. President Claudine Gay, who has faced criticism for her responses to antisemitism, participated in the menorah lighting ceremony.

    In a heartfelt plea, Zarchi expressed optimism on behalf of everyone present, emphasizing the importance of collaboration. He urged her to take action when witnessing any incidents of anti-Semitism on campus, emphasizing the significance of not staying silent when encountering such situations.

    Gay approached and kindled the shamash, the ceremonial candle used to ignite the other flames. As the event concluded, she joined the group for a photograph but chose not to deliver any public statements.

    Claudine Gay watches menorah lighting

    Menorah at Harvard square

    Claudine Gay lights menorah


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    37 Comments
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    Yosef
    Yosef
    3 months ago

    I love how all these commentators, many of whom have probably never set foot on a secular campus, opining on what a shliach of 26 years at Harvard should or should not do.
    Claudine Gay is there to stay. Zarchi has to bring her around, and turn her into a friend. Let him do his job and you do yours.
    This reminds me how Sen. Jesse Helms became one of Israel’s biggest friends after he was befriended by Sen. Chic Hecht (and Chabad had a hand in that too). See the Rebbe’s letter to Dershowitz on this very issue)

    Jewish mother
    Jewish mother
    3 months ago

    My father taught me that we make peace with our enemies. We do not need to make peace with our friends.

    Geon Yaakov
    Geon Yaakov
    3 months ago

    Chabad has a different approach to dealing with ‘anti-Semitic’ politicians. See the Rebbe’s letter to Alan Dershowitz. https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/525279/jewish/Refocusing-Our-Perception.htm

    FYI
    FYI
    3 months ago

    If Zarchi wants his menorah up overnight he can erect it at his Chabad House.

    Lgb
    Lgb
    3 months ago

    Disgusting capitulation to terrorism by chabad. I’m sorry but you dont invite an antisemite to a Chanukah lighting. Period. Full stop.

    FYI
    FYI
    3 months ago

    The Chabad Lubavitch run after PR. They invited Gay like they invited and honored Doug Emhoff last week in DC.

    Shameful
    Shameful
    3 months ago

    This is really no different then when satmer. Goes out to demonstrate with the palestinian and jew hating supporters in denouncing Israel whoever thought this was going to be a good idea is a fool and in my humble opinion a traitor to the Jewish people.