Comic: Why Hillel makes me feel less safe as a Jew on campus

Editor’s Note: This write-up offers some background context for the author’s comic on the subject of their experience as a Jewish student with Hillel and Zionism at UBC, which follows below. Additional information about the author’s artistic decisions was added to the body of the article on March 25, 2024, at 7:47 PM.

Jess Goldman (they/them) is a queer Jewish writer, comics artist, amateur puppeteer, and half-baked Yiddishist based on the traditional, unceded lands of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Musqueam peoples. Jess is also a grad student in the Creative Writing Program, in the homestretch of their thesis –– a speculative graphic memoir about their relationship to their bubbe, their Jewish grandmother.

A bisl context for this comic: Hillel BC is a Jewish student organization that leases land from UBC (though it’s not directly affiliated with the university). And despite its claims to represent all campus Jews, as an anti-Zionist Jew of conscience, I have never felt represented by Hillel, an organization that envisions a world in which “every [Jewish] student is inspired to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel,” as their “about” webpage states. 

To Hillel, Judaism, Jewish culture and Zionism are all one and the same. And so, nu, it is in the world of this logic that anti-Zionism becomes antisemitism. 

I reject this. There is a long, often supressed history of Jewish anti-Zionism going back to the Jewish Labour Bund in the early 20th century. To oppose Zionism is to oppose a settler-colonial project rooted in white supremacist expansionism. It is not anti-Semitic. In fact, I’d argue it’s the opposite. 

Hillel claims to be the singular voice for Jews on campus and that it welcomes all campus Jews into its space, using language on their website like “pluralistic” and “inclusive”. Yet even though their website claims to “provide an opportunity for robust conversations about Jewish issues and Israel affairs in an atmosphere of openness and respect,” in January I was refused entry into one of their events because I was not on their “pre-approved list”. Keep in mind that this event was advertised as public and had no registration form. So, in my experience, “inclusion” at Hillel is conditional –– conditional on total faith in Israel, as if Israel itself were a religion and not a nation-state. 

I was compelled to make this comic after the AMS Council meeting on February 28 in which the Council struck the Palestine Referendum from the General Election ballot citing AMS Bylaw 4(2). Though it was an incredibly ambitious referendum, and AMS had the authority to remove it from the ballot, I still wish we lived in a world where the referendum could have gone through and been put to a vote in the General Election. Why not let students decide? 

Among its demands were that the university condemn the genocide in Gaza, provide support and protection to Palestinian students, as well as other students of colour who have experienced harassment since October 7, divest from corporations actively funding the genocide (like weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems), and participate in PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel

The referendum also demanded that the university end Hillel BC’s lease on the land (land that is, in the first place, stolen from the Musqueam people). This was preceded by Hillel inviting an Israeli Defence Force soldier to speak on campus amid Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and also followed a Hillel subcontractor distributing offensive stickers across campus, fraudulently attributed to the Social Justice Centre. The latter incident is now the subject of a defamation lawsuit.

At the February 28 meeting where AMS Council decided the fate of the referendum, I, along with two other UBC students, spoke in support of the referendum as a pro-Palestinian Jewish student who refuses to allow Hillel to co-opt my voice. Three students also spoke in support of Hillel. This comic details the aftermath of that experience and the ways in which Hillel and Zionism at large pit Jews against one another (and against our Palestinian comrades), attempting to actively silence any expression of Jewishness that does not have the State of Israel at its centre.

I understand that the portrayals of Jewishness in this comic might provoke an intense reaction in some readers, both Jewish and non-Jewish. However, as a queer assimilated Jew, the way I draw myself is a reclamation of my Jewishness. 

This portrayal is particularly relevant now. A moment in which Jewish communities are having intense intracommunal battles over Jewish identity –– in other words, who is Jewish and who is not, which frequently becomes a determination based on one's faith in Zionism and Israel. 

There's a long line of Jewish artists who have played with antisemitic tropes as a means of political critique and cultural reclamation. Jewish comics artists like Eli Valley and Aline Kominsky-Crumb have used antisemitic tropes to reclaim a loud, boisterous, and shameless diasporic Jewishness, and I’m dipping from the same inkwell. 

A big part of the process of Jewish assimilation into European and North American culture was tamping down our Jewishness and stripping ourselves of our Jewish embodiedness. In his book, Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man, the Jewish scholar, Daniel Boyarin, talks about how European culture saw Jewish men as “feminine” (read: queer) because they were more embodied than their gentile counterparts, and so it was only by disavowing their embodiedness that Jewish men could assimilate. I would argue that this has applied to not only Jewish men, but all Jews.

So I'll leave you with two things: the inaugural episode of the Jewish Currents podcasts, On The Nose, which discusses the reactions to their controversial magazine cover of a hooked nose, and their nuanced responses to it, as well as the Jewish lesbian poet Adrienne Rich's words, which, to me, sum up everything I’m talking about here and invoking in my comic: “…change your name, your accent, your nose; straighten or dye your hair; stay in the closet; pretend the Pilgrims were your fathers; become baptized as a Christian… starve yourself to look young, thin, and feminine; don’t gesture with your hands; value elite European culture above all others; laugh at jokes about your own people; don’t make trouble; defer to white men; smile when they take your picture; be ashamed of who you are…”.

Jess Goldman

This is an opinion article. It reflects only the author's views and does not reflect the views of The Ubyssey as a whole. Have something to say about what you just read? Contribute to the conversation and send a letter to the editor in response or your own submission at