The sun sets over Isla Vista | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

In response to the anti-Semitic incidents at UC Santa Barbara and in Isla Vista this week, Jewish students from UCSB will be hosting a Walk to Remember on Sunday, February 5, as a community-wide statement against anti-Semitism and in remembrance of the millions of Jews who died during the Holocaust. 

The walk will begin at 2 p.m. at Santa Barbara Hillel in Isla Vista (781 Embarcadero del Mar) and end with a gathering at Little Acorn Park. 

“To me, it’s really about using a negative moment as a springboard to have a positive impact and a lasting impact on our community,” said Tom Hirshfeld, a third-year political science major at UCSB and one of the event’s student organizers. 

On UCSB’s campus, anti-Semitic messages were written across the chalkboard of an Israeli Politics class, and in Isla Vista, flyers promoting virulent anti-Semitic propaganda were distributed throughout the community.

Hirshfeld is a boardmember of the Santa Barbara Hillel and a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi-Sigma Beta Chapter, a Jewish fraternity at UCSB, which are the two Jewish student organizations hosting Sunday’s event alongside StandWithUs, an Israel education organization.

“The point of [Walk to Remember] is to take this week’s events, and specifically the Holocaust denial that was in those pamphlets, and shine a light on the misinformation and, more importantly, educate people about what the Holocaust was because we’re slowly losing Holocaust survivors in this country and internationally,” Hirshfeld said. “Personally, my great-grandmother survived Auschwitz, and she passed away two years ago — the stories are lost unless we keep telling them.

“It’s on us to educate when we’re faced with what, frankly, stems from ignorance. Because the way to fight this is to say that it’s unacceptable, but also to explain to people why it’s unacceptable and why it’s just not true.”

Hirshfeld said that, although he thought the initial response to the incidents from UCSB’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was “inadequate,” the university has followed up in a more productive way in the time since.

According to Hirshfeld, members of the university’s administration, including Chancellor Henry Yang, have sat down with UCSB’s Jewish community this week, working with them and discussing how the school should respond and move forward. He said he hopes that UCSB will continue to work with Jewish students to foster substantive change on campus, such as including anti-Semitism training in new student orientations or creating a space for Jewish students on campus.

Overall, Hirshfeld called the community’s response to the incidents “commendable.” He explained that he is happy to see the Jewish community, a group that has been historically subjected to violent persecution, fighting for their right to feel comfortable in shared spaces and advocating for themselves. 

“I think that’s just the next step of a group that’s still recovering from lots of generational trauma, is that ability to put their foot down and start feeling at home, because that’s been lacking for Jews in the U.S. and in the rest of the diaspora,” Hirshfeld said. 

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