Charlotte Korchak, a senior educator with StandWithUs, spoke about the Jewish community and Hamas.
The Daily Trojan
By NICHOLAS CORRAL
October 27, 2023
On Thursday night, USC Hillel hosted Charlotte Korchak, a senior educator with StandWithUs, an international education organization that fights antisemitism and supports Israel, for a discussion about the Israel-Hamas war. Korchak presented to attendees about the historical context behind the war, answered student questions and called for community among Jewish people.
Korchak said her work has shifted from discussing Israel and Palestine to supporting Jewish students amid the Israel-Hamas war that began Oct. 7 after Hamas launched an attack on Israel, which has escalated into a series of retaliatory attacks and a siege on Gaza.
“I am actively trying to give Jews strength to be able to walk outside and not be afraid,” Korchak said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “I’m trying to give the Jewish people and our friends and our allies the education and the knowledge that they need to know why Israel is doing what they’re doing.”
USC senior and Hillel president Maya Grinstein helped organize the event. In an interview with the Daily Trojan, she said the event was an opportunity for the wider USC community to learn about the experiences of Jewish students.
“I hope that students understand the profound grief that the Jewish community is feeling right now,” Grinstein said. “And the intense period of mourning that we’re all in and have been in and will be in.”
Korchak graduated from the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in history and centered her presentation around providing students with the history of Israel and Hamas. She contextualized the war by describing events including the founding of Hamas in 1987, the second intifada, the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas’ 2007 coup in which it gained governance over Gaza. Korchak said Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack significantly shifted the way she viewed the world.
“I’ve now been doing this work for 13 years of my life,” Korchak said. “Again, 13 years of me trying to not just understand my own side and my own story, but to understand the whole story, understand the Palestinians, try to feel what they’re feeling and empathize and have compassion and I’m still gonna try. But the last three weeks, that’s not what I’ve been feeling. Not even a little bit of it.”
Later in the event, Korchak said, “[Israel] got nicer and nicer. And then [Hamas] slaughtered us.”
Korchak said Israel no longer has an option but to eradicate Hamas.
“We must get rid of Hamas because we cannot live with them alongside us. So I’m comfortable. And I want you to sit comfortably,” Korchak said to attendees.
Korchak discussed the grief and rage felt by Jewish audiences she’s spoken to. She said people shared videos of the violence, and Grinstein said Jewish students have not felt supported by administrators.
“It started with shock and awe, and moved on to utter grief and sorrow, and then it became rage,” Korchak said. “Then the numbness hits, and you’re scared that you might not feel those feelings again.”
The grieving process is complicated for many Israelis, Korchak said, because of facing skepticism by individuals and journalists.
“While we’re trying to grieve [the violence], we’re being told by the world one of two things: either, ‘That didn’t happen to you’ … or worse, ‘Yeah it happened, but you deserved it. You brought this upon yourselves,’” Korchack said.
In light of this, Korchak said it was important for students to protect their mental health, and that students should step away from trying to explain the Israeli experience during the war if it harms their mental health. She also emphasized the value of community organizations like Hillel for Jewish students.
“God forbid you let them affect your mental health. You pull back, but you don’t disconnect. You turn from the external to the internal, and you come into a space like this,” Korchak said. Hillel director of Israel affairs Ariela Moel said Korchak’s words resonated with her experience. Moel helped organize the event and, like Korchak, said she had tried to engage in wide dialogue regarding the developments.
“I found it very difficult as a Jewish person to [have these difficult conversations] and [Korchak] really validated that for me, saying sometimes it’s okay to take time for yourself, take time for your mental health and that goes for anyone affected by this,” Moel said.
After describing the history of Hamas and the experience of Jewish individuals, Korchak opened up the event to audience response. Students spoke about rhetoric from Israeli politicians and about chants heard at a “Free Palestine” rally on campus last week.
Hillel will host educational events through Thanksgiving, including Shabbat with Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, whose Congressional district includes the USC campus, to discuss U.S.-Israel relations and a “Zionism-and-me” panel. Grinstein said the University needed to take action to address harassment experienced by Jewish students on campus.
“There needs to be, from the level of the administration, more explicit antisemitism training,” Grinstein said. “I think they need to put out the procedures to file Title IX claims for students who are being harassed in whatever context. I think they need to actively promote that while free speech [is] important and a fundamental right that is promised by our Constitution, students’ safety must be the priority.”
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