This is the ninth in a series of blog posts by Hillel professionals, sharing why they love what they do.
It should have been the very worst of days. An extreme, independent church known for its harassment of Jews, gays, Catholics and anyone else on their seemingly random checklist of offenders was headed to Stanford, and Hillel was their destination. While their hatred finds many targets, it seems that harassing Jewish and LGBT institutions are this church’s pet projects, and this was certainly borne out by the signs they brought for their visit.
We learned that they were arriving on a Friday morning at 8 AM, and wondered if any students on a college campus see that hour of the day. Ignore them? This group thrives on media attention, so one proposal was to simply not grant them that victory. But we finally decided that to allow such a display of hatred to go unchallenged would be a cowardly silence. If even one student saw them holding a sign that read “Fags Can’t Marry” or “God Hates Jews” without any response, they would have succeeded.
Indeed, those were the signs they carried that day. The campus came together, and at 8 AM on a January morning, 1,000 students stood on Hillel’s front lawn. It was not a counter demonstration – we would not grant them their provocation. It was merely a celebration of “Stanford United.” Many students still report that this was their best day at Stanford, the kind of experience that solidified for them what Stanford community means. It was such an outpouring of love and solidarity that many attendees, including students and university officials, found themselves teary-eyed as we chanted a unity mantra:
“We stand united, and we pledge:
When we are no longer at Stanford, we will go to the home of those who are unjustly targeted – whoever they may be. We will speak out with them. I pledge to fight hate at my doorstep or yours.
We stand united, affirming acceptance and inclusiveness.
We stand united, affirming respect and diversity.
We are Stanford United.”
The message was clear: we are a diverse student body, but when one group is attacked, we are all attacked, and we will band together against hatred. We got a surprise visit from the wacky Stanford band, with the campus mascot, The Tree, bearing a sign that summed it up nicely: “Tree Hates Bigots.”
For some of us who stood in that crowd, we are twice blessed; we are not only Jewish, but gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. For me, that is a reason for celebration. But we also stand at the cross section of this group’s hatred by identifying with their top two subjects of hate. One student poster made this point as it exclaimed: “The first friend I came out to was a lesbian Jew!”
This church has done us a favor. Not only was it a banner day for our Hillel and Stanford that will never quite be replicated, but on a deeper level, they have made clear that Judaism and the struggle for LGBT equal rights are linked. And, above all, they taught everyone at Stanford that these are everyone’s issues, because when we are part of a community, we are all united. The campus groups and individuals who came to show their support that morning made it clear that they agree.
See the video from the Stanford United celebration:
*Twice Blessed is a reference to the groundbreaking 1989 anthology edited by Christie Balka and Andy Rose (Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian or Gay and Jewish, Beacon Press)
Mychal Copeland is a California native in her 10th year as Rabbi and Senior Jewish Educator at Hillel at Stanford. Prior to that, she served as Associate Director of Jewish Student Life at Hillel of University of California, Los Angeles. Rabbi Copeland earned a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a rabbinical degree from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.