Florida Hillels have found an incredibly successful — and delicious — way to counter antisemitism on college campuses. Call it a schmear campaign.
“Spread Cream Cheese, Not Hate,” which originated at University of Florida Hillel in 2020, spreads awareness about antisemitism. The event is simple: Sign a petition against antisemitism and receive a fresh bagel and T-shirt.
UF Hillel students and professionals never expected “Spread Cream Cheese, Not Hate” to become an annual tradition in Florida. Originally, as a joke, a UF Hillel professional highlighted National Bagel Day on the staff calendar, but quickly realized the potential for an educational event.
“We wanted to figure out a low-barrier opportunity for us to start raising awareness and educating the greater community about antisemitism,” said Jamie Zinn, director of development at UF Hillel. “We thought, ‘How can we leverage a pop culture moment, if you will, for an opportunity to create change and dialogue?’”
This year, to get the campus community involved, Hillel students and professionals set up three tables in areas with heavy foot traffic on Jan. 18. They spent the day tabling, where they answered questions about the rise of antisemitism on campus and beyond.
The petition stated that the number of antisemtic incidents are “increasing at an alarming rate.” It asked signers to pledge to combat hate of all forms and work to keep the campus safe for all community members.
At the end of the day, the petition received over 1,700 signatures.
For Jakob Levin, a 22-year-old senior studying political science and Jewish studies, combatting antisemitism is a personal mission.
“During winter break in 2019, my mezuzah was stolen,” he said.
His mezuzah was never found. Another apartment housing Jewish students was also vandalized in winter 2019.
These incidents motivated him to get out on campus and spread awareness about antisemitism. Levin has worked the “Spread Cream Cheese, Not Hate” event for three years.
This year, the event occurred right after the Colleyville, Texas synagogue attack, where four people – including the synagogue’s rabbi – were held hostage for nearly 11 hours. This attack, as well as the spike in national antisemitism, encouraged both Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach and Central Florida Hillel to host their own “Spread Cream Cheese, Not Hate” events.
Amanda Baritz, a Florida Atlantic University student majoring in social work, volunteered at the Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach event, which took place at FAU on Feb. 1. She walked around with a clipboard, encouraging passersby to scan a QR code leading to the petition.
Baritz, 21, said she was pleasantly surprised at how well the event was received on her campus. The pledge was signed by almost 400 people.
“I was super nervous going up and talking to people,” she said. “But it was really exciting to see people from other backgrounds, not just the Jewish community. We weren’t the only ones sticking up for ourselves. Other people cared as well.”
At Central Florida Hillel, Jake Gould, a 20-year-old junior, worked his campus event at UCF on Feb. 28. The health sciences major said the petition was signed by over 500 people, despite a short tabling window. Many of the people he spoke to weren’t Jewish.
For Gould, spreading awareness was crucial, especially because of a slew of hate incidents in Orlando, which included antisemitic signs and rallies earlier this year.
“Tabling on campus is usually superficial, so here we had a unique ability to be able to easily attract students, but also do it with a purpose, to have that deeper level,” he said.
The event has seen great success this year. Jamie Zinn of UF Hillel said “Spread Cream Cheese, Not Hate” could grow even more in coming years.
“In addition to FAU and UCF, I think we’ve received inquiries from seven other Hillels across the country that are interested in doing this,” she said. “I think we’re all hungry for proactive opportunities.”
Emma Lichtenstein is a senior at Brandeis University.