When I began my academic journey at UCLA three years ago, I was led by two principal desires: to discover and become as heavily involved in the Jewish community as possible, and to major in political science as a stepping stone to law school. What I didn’t realize, however, was how deeply intertwined my Jewish values and political beliefs would soon become.

Like many Jews, the October 7th attacks immediately left me grappling with fears for my Israeli family and friends. What came not too shortly after were fears concerning how my life as a college student in California would change. I spent that evening at Chabad, celebrating Simchat Torah, the fears in my heart wrestling with the joy and hope I felt at the sight of my Jewish community still dancing and celebrating in spite of the day’s horrors.

For the first day or two, my peers in the broader UCLA community dignified my concerns with a shred of sympathy and a glimmer of understanding, but that was quickly swept away by a tidal wave of hate.

My Jewish classmates and I have had front-row seats to witness our campus being overtaken by hateful individuals (many of whom are not students) for self-proclaimed political ideologies and activism, in misalignment with the very phrases they hurl at us. They claim a policy of tolerance and understanding while simultaneously establishing checkpoints through which not only Jews, but all others not identifiably in line with their ideology, were denied access to the very amenities their tuition afforded them. I’ve seen the inverted red triangle—a symbol of Hamas, a recognized terrorist group—proudly displayed on campus, as well as imagery of our Jewish chancellor with horns.

Growing up in a Jewish family and in a predominantly Armenian community, I’m intimately familiar with the pain and trauma of genocide, and what happens when hatred goes unchecked. That vitriolic hatred is coming alive again, in its newest and ugly form, in what we believed to be accepting and progressive sunny Southern California.

Yet, there has been a tremendous amount of beauty as well; small pockets of peace where the Jewish soul has become a stronger presence than the antisemitism I’ve witnessed.

Attendance at Chabad events has boomed as Jewish students have found a haven where they can simply be themselves. We’ve all learned that attending Shabbat dinners, challah bakes, and other gatherings provides a source of comfort, community, and safety.

When I first began attending Chabad during my freshman year in 2021, Shabbat dinners were held in the tiny home of our amazing Chabad couple, Rabbi Dovid and Elisa Gurevich. We’ve since moved to a much larger space at the headquarters of Chabad of the West Coast, which is still barely able to accommodate the masses of students in attendance.

Many of my peers echo my sentiment that attending Shabbat services and dinner at Chabad is what gets us through the week. It’s a place where we can affirm who we are, engage in nuanced conversation, and remind ourselves of the truths that once seemed so obvious to everyone. Above all, it is a place that has provided me with a sense of family while away from my own.

The second we leave Chabad, we often feel like strangers, unwelcome and unwanted. Unfortunately, it is a feeling that finds its roots in the mind of the academic institution, from uninformed faculty that baselessly claims itself as an authority on geopolitical conflicts, to TAs regularly wearing keffiyehs to class while spouting about the “evils of Zionism.”

It’s a sad and unfortunately true fact that I, as a Jew, am not wanted in the academic sphere of UCLA. There is an almost comedic irony in the fact that, as a political science student with far too many opinions, I remain silent in class for fear of revealing my Jewish identity and being subject to harassment and intimidation.

Yet, this year has also been an incredible time of growth and spiritual discovery for me and my fellow Jewish students. Many of us have turned to mitzvahs—such as lighting Shabbat candles or putting on tefillin—as tangible ways to bring Jewish light into an atmosphere of gloom and hatred.

Challenged about our Jewish identity, we’ve committed to learning more Torah, digging deeper into our heritage, and enriching our spiritual lives.

Over and over again, we’ve reminded ourselves Am Yisrael Chai—the Jewish people live. The campus protesters are walking down a well-trodden path, following in the pathetic ways of generations of antisemites who came before them. And we, the Jewish people, will live to tell the tale.