Scrolling through her Instagram, Chloe Levian couldn’t help but notice an abundance of pictures of people wearing Star of David necklaces on her feed. The senior at The University of California, Los Angeles and social ambassador for Hillel International felt inspired seeing so many people sharing their Jewish pride, “especially in a time of heightened antisemitism on college campuses nationwide,” she said.
The posts are part of Hillel International’s #OwnYourStar social media campaign. The three-week long initiative launched on Oct. 12 to empower students to stand up against antisemitism on their college campuses, online, and beyond. For nearly 2,000 years, the Star of David has been a proud symbol of Jewish heritage, but it has also been used to terrorize the Jewish community and spread hate. #OwnYourStar encourages students to post on Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok about what the Star of David, or other Jewish symbols, mean to them using the hashtag #OwnYourStar. As a part of the campaign, Hillel also created a collection of merchandise that includes sweatshirts and stickers, available for purchase on the website.
The week before the campaign launch, Levian said she witnessed an act of antisemitic vandalism on her campus. After seeing people she knew stepping up and participating in #OwnYourStar, she said she felt empowered to use her voice to change the norm of antisemitism at her university. She took a picture in front of a UCLA sign wearing a black sweatshirt she got from the campaign that reads, “Anti-AntiSemitism Club.”
“It felt like I was a part of a bigger community … like I was a part of a bigger movement,” Levian said. “It wasn’t just me wearing my necklace … ”
#OwnYourStar is designed to ask young people to share what makes them proud to be Jewish on their social accounts — giving them the tools and resources to counter antisemitism in their daily lives — at a time when the cultural climate is making it difficult to outwardly embrace one’s Jewish identity and heritage. A new survey from the ADL and Hillel International recently found that one in three students personally experienced some form of antisemitic hate over the past year. The data also showed that 32% of Jewish students experienced antisemitism directed at them, and 79% of those students reported that it happened to them more than once during the last academic year.
“Hillel International has been committed to combating antisemitism on campus for decades, and we are ready to meet this moment to ensure Jewish students are able to live and study on campus without fear of harassment or other bias,” said Adam Lehman, President and CEO of Hillel International. “Our expanded initiatives will help ensure students and campus professionals are equipped with the tools they need to call out and respond to antisemitic rhetoric and violence whenever and wherever they see it.”
Local Hillels are encouraged to participate and adapt the campaign to their own campuses. The Hillels at the University of Missouri, Ohio State, and Miami University in Ohio among others showcase daily posts of community members talking about what being Jewish means to them.
Sophomores Jordana Sweeney and Hannah Litt both participated in #OwnYourStar through the Hillel at Miami University. Sweeney said that posting helped her feel like other people have her back no matter where she is. In her post, Litt talked about being a Jewish woman, something she said is a huge part of her Jewish identity.
“Being a woman who’s Jewish in particular, I think our faith … helps us flourish, especially now in the modern world,” Litt said.
Since #OwnYourStar began, the movement has attracted the attention of other Jews worldwide, including influential Jewish activists such as actor Mayim Bialik.
In her Instagram video, Bialik said that she is uniquely proud to be Jewish because of the incredible diversity of the Jewish people. She talks about the mission of peace and hope being at the core of the Jewish people.
“There’s many, many reasons I’m proud to be Jewish including the incredible openness and acceptance that we try and have,” she said.
Sam Felderman, a senior at the University of Arizona, also has many reasons for pride. For his post, Felderman stood in front of a rainbow pride flag, capturing two important parts of his identity – being Jewish and also part of the LGBTQ community.
Something that I’ve had to come to terms with is that I’m … both LGBT-identifying and also Jewish,” Felderman said. “For a long time, I personally just didn’t equate [them to] each other, so the picture I chose was just me finally being comfortable enough to say that I’m able to be both.”
In addition to the #OwnYourStar campaign, Hillel is rolling out a new curriculum to educate students and Hillel professionals about the history of antisemitism on college campuses, and recently launched ReportCampusHate.org, an online portal that allows Jewish students and their allies to report antisemitic incidents on college campuses and receive immediate support.