15 Mar, 2024

VOICES: My Jewish Journey Has Been Shaped By My AEPi Experience (UC Berkeley, 2024)

15 Mar, 2024

(Editor’s Note: Daniel Conway (UC – Berkeley, 2024) wrote the following column to tell his personal Jewish journey in college and express his experiences on campus since October 7. In January of 2023, Daniel was featured as a Friday PiDay on the AEPi website telling his story as a Israel on Campus Coalition Geller Fellow. AEPi is proud to use this space to help Daniel tell his story and to give our Brothers and supporters a taste of the climate on campus today. To submit your own column, email [email protected]).

Over the past five months, I have realized that my Berkeley education has been vastly different from that of 95% of other students.

I came to Berkeley with a few goals: to get a top-tier education in Environmental Economics & Policy, to find a niche in the fight against climate change to specialize in, and to understand how I can leverage myself to make a positive impact on the world.

I am proud to say that I have accomplished these goals: I am graduating with a B.S. in only three years, I am PUMPED to do meaningful work in the alternative protein and sustainable food industry post-grad, and I am confident in my ability to build community around shared values.

Along this journey, I enriched myself with my identity. I refounded the Jewish Fraternity before I knew what a fraternity was. I joined the Jewish climate action group, which led to my first summer internship with the Jewish Solar Challenge. I started attending Shabbat dinners regularly for the first time in my life. I returned to eating Kosher. I traveled to Israel and learned about its ancient and modern history focusing on the nuance that lies throughout. I started to shape my weeks around making the time for rest on Shabbat.

I discovered an incredible community, an opportunity to engage with my academic and professional interests, and a space in which I could learn about myself, all while immersing myself in my culture. At points I felt that I was at school to be Jewish, rather than a student.

My independence and curiosity led me to learn what Judaism truly means: Family.

I found myself comfortable being Jewish in Jewish spaces, as those were where I typically dwelled. However, after October 7th, I uncovered how uncomfortable it was to be Jewish in non-Jewish spaces. I asked myself: How can somebody remain comfortable when walking to class and hearing other students chant for violence toward their family? How can someone mask the brutal murder of 1300+ civilians as resistance? For crying out loud, how can anyone justify rape? UC Berkeley took no meaningful action to address the hostile campus environment towards Jewish students.

On February 26th, I helped organize, and attended a speaker event on campus that prompted a protest from the SJP groups on campus. The protest became a riot, and multiple Jewish students were attacked, windows were broken, and attendees were forced to escape through a secret exit, to then host the event at the Chabad.

While I, too, am critical of the speaker, I would have preferred to engage in civil discourse, rather than force the Jews back into hiding. I hoped this would be the “unprecedented” breaking point in which antisemitism could be addressed for what it was, and UC Berkeley could take the necessary action to fight hate and promote inclusion, something they say they champion.

I was wrong. After celebrating this pogrom, the anti-Israel groups continued to host events, block off the main gate to campus, intimidate Jewish students, and deny the violence that occurred. Jewish students are tired of waiting patiently for the university to take action.

I believe I have found such an amazing Jewish community in Berkeley precisely because the broader Berkeley community is not accepting of Jews. The extraordinary connection I forged with my Jewish identity in college is not because Berkeley is an oasis of Jewish life, akin to a modern-day Jerusalem. It stems from the stark reality that UC Berkeley treats its Jewish students similarly to how Jews were historically treated: segregated into their own spaces and viewed as “others.”

In rebuilding the Chi Alpha chapter of AEPi, I discovered not merely a fraternity but a catalyst for a lifetime commitment to Jewish life. The leadership roles I embraced, the fully kosher Passover Seder for 30 people I hosted and cooked, and the events I DJed were not mere activities. They were foundational experiences that significantly strengthened my Jewish identity and resolve. My dedication to Jewish life, initially kindled by my family, was profoundly deepened through my experiences at Berkeley and within AEPi. This journey has truly marked the beginning of a commitment for a lifetime.