WMFA Co-Chair Grace Bennett to the President of Columbia

Letter from WMFA Co-Chair Grace Bennett to the President of Columbia University following the defacement-with swastikas and an anti-semitic slur-on the walls of a professor’s office at Columbia’s Teacher’s College. https://cnn.it/2BHfuTT

Dear Dr. Bollinger,

It was a pleasure to speak with Pete Donatich, a senior administrative assistant in your office who seemed receptive and open to hearing what I had to say. After I said it, he suggested I write to you, so I am. I write wearing many hats. First and foremost, my son is currently a graduate student on campus, enrolled full time for a Masters degree. I am an ’84 graduate of the Columbia University Journalism School, and a regular donor to the school. I am a long time journalist, editor and for the last 16 years, publisher of the Inside Press. I am on the board of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center which last year awarded me the Bernard Rosenshein Courage to Care award, an honor I take very seriously. I am also a co-chair of a new organization called WoMen For All.

But most relevant perhaps is that I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors. My father, 97 year old Jacob Breitstein, survived Auschwitz. His picture is attached. He held the Never Again sign participating in a World Jewish Congress campaign. This picture quickly went viral reaching tens of thousands. My father’s mother and four brothers and sisters perished in the ghetto of Lodz and/or the gas chambers and fires of Auschwitz. His father, my grandfather Fischel Breitstein, survived the war too in horrific conditions hiding and he passed when I was a teenager. The second picture is with my father and his lost family.

To state that I was devastated reading the news and seeing sickening images of swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs painted across the walls of a Columbia University teacher’s office is an understatement for me. I am concerned not only for my son’s safety, but for the safety and well-being of the entire Columbia College community, and I trust that appropriate increased security measures are underway.

As the investigation ensues, I ask that you look in your heart at the negativity and hurtful messages that have been prevalent inside the college campus-namely those being pushed by pro BDS groups who also and very unfortunately have attempted to shut down Jewish voices on campus who support Israel. The timing is good to speak out specifically against antisemitism after an incident such as this and to consider all the possible contributing factors. I’d look forward to hearing something meaningful from you in regard to how to restore a sense of safety, respect and inclusion for all members of the Columbia University community and family.

To that end, I would recommend an immediate panel on the root causes of antisemitism from both extreme right and left wing sources. My father (we call him Poppy) is very old but his memory is still crisp and there are powerful passages from his (as yet, unpublished) memoir I could read as well. I’d be happy to bring him to say a few words to the faculty and student body about the impact of hate mongering. He writes of his memories of when the Nazis first stormed his community and how his family’s life was shattered irrevocably.

Please let me know if you are interested in following up on this. I would also be happy to meet with you at any time too to interview you on these issues.

Sincerely, Grace Bennett

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