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A call to improve life for Jews at Notre Dame

| Thursday, November 11, 2021

In my last column, I described my experience attending Notre Dame as a Jewish student. It appears that some interpreted the piece as an endorsement of Notre Dame’s attitude towards its Jewish community without reservation. That’s not my view. My intended message was that a Jewish student can make it through Notre Dame, but a number of elements make it significantly difficult to be Jewish when it doesn’t have to be that way. My hope in this column is to convey that point further and recommend routes to a Notre Dame that better celebrates its religious diversity.

My advocacy is not a condemnation of the university, especially the people I’ve worked with in Campus Ministry, student government and other campus organizations while on the Jewish Club’s executive board. We’ve been able to make great strides towards a more inclusive Notre Dame for Jewish students. My suggestions are purely recommendations to cement that inclusivity more broadly, but it’s not a denial of Notre Dame’s commitment to Jewish students.

My suggestions are also not meant to be comprehensive. Each issue requires greater complexity and nuance in implementation, but my purpose here is to begin that discussion.

Improving Jewish life on campus is essential to Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. As stated in “Nostra Aetate,” ­­the Church takes its relationship with Jews seriously, recognizing G-d “holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues.” Recognizing the spiritual connection between Catholicism and Judaism is necessary “to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.” A commitment to developing a close relationship with the Jewish community is a necessary component to the Church’s mission. If Notre Dame strives to adhere to that identity, part of its plan must involve fostering a connection with the Jewish members on campus.

Kosher food

Kosher refers to the strict dietary laws outlined in Jewish law. Some notable rules include not being able to eat pork or shellfish, as well as not being able to eat meat and dairy together. For Jews who keep Kosher, it can become difficult to adhere to these laws in the dining hall, but especially at catered events. I don’t follow each Kosher law, but I’ve heard stories from Jewish students and faculty expressing their difficulty keeping Kosher through Notre Dame’s dining options. Greater effort from Campus Dining to offer options in accordance with different religious traditions would resolve this problem.

Antisemitism awareness in the Moreau First-Year Experience curriculum

I’ve written before on the importance of addressing antisemitism, especially on college campuses. In fact, the Jewish Club hosted an entire week of events dedicated to the topic. Antisemitism is complex and requires broad awareness that a classroom setting can easily provide. Since the Moreau First-Year Experience is already aimed at assisting first-year students in the transition to life at Notre Dame, including antisemitism education would benefit our effort greatly. There are a number of great resources to draw from, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Anti-Defamation League.

This issue falls squarely within Church doctrine. “Nostra Aetate” continues with the notion that the Church “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of [antisemitism], directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.” As antisemitism is an ever-increasing threat to Jewish students on college campuses, a commitment from the university to protect its Jewish students is more important now than ever.

Highlighting Jewish students in undergraduate admissions

As indicated in my last column, a big worry for prospective Jewish students is “fitting in” at Notre Dame. Admissions highlighting the Jewish experience at Notre Dame would demonstrate to prospective Jews that you can be Jewish and thrive at this university.

This would likely encourage more Jews to apply, which would assist in increasing Notre Dame’s low Jewish population. There’s no excuse for the minimal number of Jews in the undergraduate student body when peer Catholic institutions like Georgetown University and Boston College host a Jewish constituency of hundreds.

Jewish Studies Program

Notre Dame doesn’t have some form of Jewish Studies, unlike peer institutions. Such a program is essential to not only understanding the Catholic-Jewish relationship, but also further establishing Notre Dame’s prominence in academic theology. We have phenomenal faculty that specialize on Jewish topics and establishing a Jewish Studies program would only further their fantastic efforts.

An official definition of antisemitism

Last semester, the student senate unanimously approved a measure pushing Notre Dame to adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. Defining antisemitism is a key part in the fight against Jew-hatred, as it provides a basis to identify antisemitism and educate the community about the issue. I implore the administration to officially adopt this definition to demonstrate solidarity with the Jewish community.

Now, I’m not suggesting Notre Dame remove crosses or reject its Catholic identity. Rather, I’m proposing these recommendations as avenues for Notre Dame to uphold the Church’s mission of fostering a better relationship between Catholics and Jews. It’s perfectly fine and laudable that Notre Dame is proud of its Catholic mission. However, if Notre Dame is willing to accept non-Catholic students, it must be willing to accommodate those students so they can fully participate in our wonderful community. I’m confident that we can accomplish this goal and still retain Notre Dame’s eminent focus on Catholicism.


Blake Ziegler is a junior at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He enjoys writing about politics, Judaism and the occasional philosophical rant. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or followed at @NewsWithZig on Twitter if you want to see more of his opinions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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