JHF approves emergency grants for mental health needs on campus
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JHF approves emergency grants for mental health needs on campus

Of the $135,000 given, $100,000 will go to Hillel International, $25,000 to Hillel JUC, $5,000 to Chabad at Pitt and $5,000 to Chabad of CMU

Students gather at the University of Pittsburgh and demonstrate support for Israel on Oct. 9. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)
Students gather at the University of Pittsburgh and demonstrate support for Israel on Oct. 9. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation approved emergency grants totaling $135,000 to support the mental health needs of Jewish college students facing rising antisemitism on campus.

The funding will go to Hillel International, Hillel JUC, Chabad of Carnegie Mellon University and Chabad House on Campus at the University of Pittsburgh.

Since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, Jewish students at the University of Pittsburgh feel increasingly “alone,” Chabad at Pitt’s Rabbi Shmuli Rothstein said.

He said students are feeling higher levels of anxiety, awkwardness, nervousness and frustration.

“Thank God nothing physical has happened,” he added, “but students are worried about antisemitism.”

“The mental health needs on campus have skyrocketed,” Chabad of CMU’s Rabbi Shlomo Silverman said. “People are stressed and scared.”

The Israel-Hamas war is 6,000 miles east of Oakland, but its effect here is palpable.

Researchers from Boston University pointed to studies conducted after Sept. 11, 2001, showing that “large-scale attacks like 9/11 can affect populations far beyond just those groups who were directly exposed to the events themselves.”

Days after the Israel-Hamas war began, the American Psychological Association cautioned that “fear, anxiety and traumatic stress have long-term effects on health and well-being…. These impacts are also being felt by people around the world who have families and friends in the region, as well as those concerned about the effects of war everywhere.”

NPR reported on Nov. 24 that repeated media exposure to war can render someone “more vulnerable to the traumatic imagery if they identify with one of the affected groups.”

Chabad at Pitt students held a Challah Bake for Israel. All proceeds were donated to the IDF. (Photo courtesy of Chabad House on Campus)

Pittsburgh’s Jewish campus professionals repeatedly told the Chronicle their students have experienced greater levels of stress and unease since Oct. 7.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has heard from students, faculty and staff “anecdotally and via reports to the Pitt Concern Connection, about a rise in Islamophobic and antisemitic remarks,” according to an Oct. 25 message to students from the office’s Vice Chancellor Clyde Wilson Pickett.

Jewish students and staff are facing “incredible duress and challenges,” said Tim Cohen, senior vice president of leadership giving at Hillel International. College campuses, he added, are “ground zero for antisemitism.”

“Obviously, we always know we’re going to have problems on certain campuses — like Columbia, Michigan, Harvard — we expect this to happen at those kinds of campuses, but we found this happening across the board,” Cohen said.

He pointed to growing unrest at Carnegie Mellon University, New York University and Oberlin College, saying, “the amount of hate that they’re experiencing is just unprecedented and is somewhat out of control.”

A CMU spokesperson, though, said that the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services has not seen an increase in students seeking mental health resources since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

“The numbers are comparable to what they’ve seen at this time in past years,” according to Peter Kerwin, CMU’s director of media relations.

In announcing its emergency grants JHF officials noted, “Hillels and Chabads on university campuses offer Jewish students a refuge and a wide range of support resources. Since the start of the Hamas-Israel War, Hillels and Chabads have seen a dramatic spike in engagement among their Jewish students, who seek camaraderie, solace, and a safe space in the face of agitation among fellow students who condemn Israel and even Jews in the aftermath of the horrific attacks by Hamas on October 7, 2023.”

Dan Marcus, Hillel JUC’s president and CEO, praised JHF’s recognition of the current climate.

“Students are sharing their anxiety and fear with our staff on campus, in coffee shops and during impromptu meetings,” he said. “We’re seeing students coming into Hillel JUC’s building, which is a safe space on campus, and needing someone to speak with. Thankfully the 10.27 Healing Partnership has provided professionals, but this period has increased our workload exponentially.”

Marcus said $25,000 of funding from JHF will continue Hillel JUC’s “core role and responsibility of caring for, advocating for and supporting Jewish students.”

Rothstein said the $5,000 Chabad at Pitt received will boost its commitment to “creating a bigger sense of family.”

Weekday programs and Shabbat meals are attracting close to 100 students, Rothstein said, and Chabad at Pitt is deeply appreciative that “JHF is there for the community.”

Chabad of CMU will use its $5,000 grant for “mental health services and fighting antisemitism on campus,” Silverman said, though he is not yet certain of the specifics.

Of the $135,000 of emergency grant funding, $100,000 will go to Hillel International due to the organization’s work with “thousands of college students globally,” according to JHF. “Hillel staff have expanded their outreach to students and faculty available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, for peer and professional support.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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