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Jewish identity made invisible at St. Olaf

St. Olaf’s Jewish community is in a state of solitude and disconnect. At St. Olaf, it is not uncommon that students may meet a Jewish person for the first time. The Jewish identity is rife with contradictions. Judaism is an ethnoreligious identity, and subsequently, even if one rescinds their religious beliefs like myself, they remain Jewish. Unlike in any other faith-based ideology, clarifying the relationship between Judaism and ethnicity is a challenge. My experience with Judaism, while lifelong and ever-present, has been a road riddled with tears, questions, anger, frustration, pride, happiness, self-consciousness and confidence. It is something I would never be willing to sacrifice.

Jews have been refugees in the world for the majority of our existence, and, ostracized from the societies where we went when there was nowhere else to go, became the recipients of many acts of violence and unfounded hatred, –something St. Olaf is quick to forget when advertising religious plurality. The school describes itself as “nourished by the Lutheran tradition,” but ignores Martin Luther’s anti-semitism, including his treatise “On the Jews and Their Lies” and his seven proposals included therein.

The rhetoric at St. Olaf only vaguely includes Judaism, usually in reference to the “Old Testament,” rather than acknowledging the humanity and the precious traditions of Jews and Judaism. We leave out the conversations about the horrific atrocities committed against us by the Christian church and by society at large. By no fault of their own, many students are even unaware that our document is called the Torah. St. Olaf seems largely incapable of adhering to its own mission statement, often forgetting that the “Lutheran values” espoused in our classrooms and in our mission statement ignores the past and forgets that those aforementioned Lutheran values – such as forgiveness and mercy – are not original to Christianity. Christian practices are Judaism-inspired. Judaism lacks independence and acknowledgment as a faith, ethnicity or culture on St. Olaf’s campus, and thus our identities are in danger of erasure. Jewish people continue to fade away from the cultural fabric of societies, and it is only a matter of time until we disappear completely.

Evan Reifman ’19 ( is from Chicago, Ill. He majors in English and French.

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