'Fighting Antisemitism in Bloomington': My Full Statement from the July 20 City Council Meeting
At the end of June, the Indiana Daily Student — IU's campus newspaper — reported that a Bloomington-based business created a logo that looks similar to the swastika appropriated by the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1940s. This is not the first antisemitic incident in Bloomington in recent years, and unfortunately, it probably won't be the last. On Wednesday, July 20, 2022, I spoke in front of the Bloomington City Council to draw attention to a long string of antisemitic incidents throughout our city.
The video of my comment is available here. I have attached a copy of my statement (which I amended slightly as I was speaking due to time constraints).
My name is David Wolfe Bender, and I am a third-year student at Indiana University. But tonight, I want to add a different descriptor to my introduction because I am also a proud Jewish student at IU.
I want to bring an issue to the council's attention and to the public's. Just after the city council let out for its summer recess, I came across this in my news feed. It is an article from the Indiana Daily Student, IU's campus newspaper.
The story details a Bloomington-based coffee business that is using antisemitic imagery and language in their promotional material. It's really good reporting, but the story is devastating.
So why am I here tonight? I am here because of conversations I often have with fellow residents in our city. While I am told there may be small pockets of hate and antisemitism that exist in our state, I am also told that it doesn't exist in Bloomington.
I am here tonight to tell you that it does exist, and I am here to tell you that it hurts. In the past two years alone, I have seen firsthand a long string of antisemitic incidents. In my first few months on campus, someone yelled an antisemitic slur toward the IU Hillel building during a Jewish service. Then, someone tore down a mezuzah from a Jewish student's door in an IU dorm. In December 2021, swastikas appeared on and off campus, at least one of them coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Then, posts appeared on a website attacking Jewish student organizations at IU. And now, a Bloomington business created a logo that looks mysteriously similar to a swastika.
I myself have witnessed and faced antisemitism in this community. Implicit and explicit: it exists. And while I will not speak for all Jews at IU, I can tell you that it makes me feel unsafe, and it makes me worried.
And yet still, I love this city, and one of the many reasons I chose to attend IU is because of its large, thriving Jewish community. Hillel International estimates that nearly 4,5000 undergraduate and graduate students attend IU. It's a significant portion of our Bloomington community and an even larger proportion of our IU community.
So what can we do? Our leaders can speak up. We can condemn these incidents, and we can report these incidents. We can have honest conversations with our friends and family about the consequences of antisemitism and hatred. We can adopt the working IHRA definition of antisemitism. And we can aspire the highest Jewish value: we can educate our kids. We can teach them that these acts — and this hatred — is wrong. Because in Judaism, education is not just a value; it's a responsibility.
I am not here tonight to ask for one specific policy from this council or the city leadership. One policy cannot change this. Instead, I am here to call attention to this issue. Because in August, IU's 4,500 Jewish residents — including myself — will return to campus. And a few months into the semester, IU's Hillel, Chabad, and other student groups — alongside Bloomington's temples and Jewish community organizations — will organize Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur events and services. Our Jewish residents deserve to be safe. Those events deserve to be safe. Those events need to be safe. Our city needs to ensure their safety. Because safety for all regardless of ethnicity or religious belief is not just a value for our city; it's a responsibility. Thank you.