Message from Rabbi Gil Steinlauf '91 | Center for Jewish Life
Center for Jewish Life - Princeton Hillel

Message from Rabbi Gil Steinlauf '91

Message from Rabbi Gil Steinlauf '91



Wed., May 1


I’m writing to you after the end of the Passover holidays to update you on how things have been on campus the past couple of days.  I’m sure most of you have been seeing the various news reports and social media posts about the disturbances on Princeton’s campus by the pro-Palestinian protesters and the resulting arrests.  

For me, these past few days have been surreal.  I have been connected to Princeton for over 35 years. While I remember protests during my days here, some of which were quite tense, I haven’t seen anything like this on Princeton’s campus before.  I’m seeing protests on our campus that are clearly acting in concert with protests going on all over the country-- all clearly working from the same playbook. I’m seeing echoes in the protests, as well, of antisemitic movements throughout history: Israel is now the easy target upon which all the frustrations and ills of society are being projected by students, many of whom have no insight into the critically important nuances and context of the actual Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With this very difficult reality, I can promise you this: I and our CJL staff will continue our commitment to advocate for and support all Jewish students at Princeton.

I attended the meeting of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) on Sunday afternoon to show support for students concerned about the USG and university responses to the protests. It was not an easy session for me and many Jewish students to witness. The room was packed with anti-Israel protesters who pounded thunderously on their desks in support of anyone who spoke in their favor, and in total silence when anyone who disagreed with them spoke.  In the end, I was so proud of our students who spoke out despite the tense atmosphere and who insisted that a line in the resolution decrying antisemitism and Islamophobia be included in the USG resolution.

I stood in solidarity with our students in front of Clio Hall on Monday as protesters infiltrated the graduate offices in an attempted sit-in. What we witnessed – the deafening pro-Palestinian shouts, protestors being arrested, and others blocking the bus carrying arrested protestors - was extremely disturbing. As I’ve previously stated, the university is taking a very forceful stance against unlawful protests, and arrested students are facing harsh repercussions, including being barred from campus and other academic disciplinary measures including suspension and possible expulsion.  

I have spoken with students who, for the first time since October 7th, are expressing increased discomfort being on campus with this rise in hateful speech and more intense protests. They are reporting feelings of deep concern about what this means for them as Jews on a campus with such displays of increased hostility toward Israel, and rhetoric that at moments feels truly antisemitic particularly the chant said in Arabic:  “From the water to the water, Palestine is Arab”. 

I am sending reports of whatever incidents or concerns I hear from students and others directly to the university administration including, when appropriate, Public Safety. We will continue these efforts to ensure the ongoing safety of Jewish students.

Our students’ mental health at this time is also of paramount importance. Our rabbinic staff, including myself, is counseling students and meeting with students in group settings to hear their experiences. We will support them, speak to the university leadership on their behalf, and reinforce that we are here for them.  And while we do that, we affirm what is joyful and sacred about our Judaism and our Jewish heritage and culture.  

Hundreds of students observed Passover at CJL participating in 4 different Seders during the opening 2 days of the holiday. Over 1,400 Kosher for Passover meals were enjoyed in the CJL dining hall. We continue to provide space, staff and resources for students to quietly prepare for their upcoming finals, enjoy study breaks, be with their friends, and celebrate Shabbat and our traditions. 

In the next few weeks, students will commemorate Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron and observe Yom Ha’atzmaut, celebrating Israel for all the hope and promise it represents for our people. We look forward to honoring our seniors as they graduate and hosting hundreds of Jewish alumni coming to campus for Reunions.  We will not let what is happening on campus deter us from our mission to be a warm, welcoming and inclusive place for all Jewish students at Princeton. 

Even with their increased concerns these days, our students are strong and resolute. We are proud of their courage and at this particularly difficult time, they need our collective support now more than ever.