By Molly Meisels
On the evening of March 31, President Ari Berman was conducting a pre-Pesach co-ed shiur [lecture] for the Yeshiva University community via Zoom, when approximately 12 antisemitic trolls joined with the group link. This is not YU’s first instance of antisemitic targeting online this year. In August, a neo-Nazi forum posted hundreds of photos of YU students to its webpage.
Five minutes into the March 31 lecture, Elazar Abrahams, YC ‘22, noticed someone with a Hitler background join the call. “I thought it was a YU kid playing some sick joke,” he shared with the YU Observer. “Then when the rest joined it became clear to everyone what was happening.” After the first troll joined, many others followed. They began posting antisemitic comments in the Zoom chat like “SHUT THE F*** UP JEWS,” “hail Hitler,” and “IMMA GAS YALL,” along with vulgar sexual comments like “F*** ME DADDY.” This was accompanied by Holocaust memes and stereotypical caricatures of Jews with hooked noses on the trolls’ screens. Many students chose to leave the lecture following the onslaught of messages and imagery. While YU administrators locked the chat as soon as possible and attempted to kick off the infiltrating accounts, they could not get rid of all of them.
Shaina Levin, SSSB ‘21, joined the Zoom call to hear some inspirational material from President Berman, but was met by videos of Hitler instead. “People think that going to YU means you don’t face antisemitism. The reality is, antisemitism will be wherever we are. We still have to stand up for ourselves. To see that happen was really shocking and horrifying, but it brought a lot of awareness to something that our institution should take less lightly — not just stay quiet, but stand up to it,” she told the YU Observer.
According to Abrahams, President Berman ignored the trolls when they joined the YU lecture and continued sharing his Pesach thoughts with the student body. Abrahams said, “[Berman] calmly continued his speech to the end. Honestly props to him, I thought that was the right move, you can’t let them win you know?”
President Berman commented to the YU Observer about dealing with the trolls: “The experience highlighted to me how one’s true character is revealed during times of crisis. Haters will hate and a time of anxiety and pressure will bring that out even more. We respond, however, with love. Our goal is not simply to mute the hate but is to add more goodness and kindness in this world.”
Hadassah Penn, SCW ‘20, was shocked to hear about what transpired on the Zoom chat. “As a YU student, I spend a lot of time in a bubble of religious and cultural security,” she said. “When I read accounts of what happened, about this onslaught of antisemitic material in what was supposed to be a safe space, I felt that bubble pop.”
This instance of “zoom-bombing” does not stand alone. Since schools and workplaces have been forced online due to COVID-19, hateful groups looking to create chaos have been given a new and more anonymous platform to conduct their abuses. On the same night as the YU “zoom-bombing,” a University of Florida student government meeting was bombarded by antisemitic drawings, racist comments, and “even [one troll who] shared their screen while looking up pornography and exposing themselves to the camera.” On April 1, a University of California Berkeley Students for a National Health Plan Zoom call was disrupted by similar “zoom-bombers” who posted swastikas on their forum.
These disruptions have issued warnings from the FBI. ABC News reported that “Zoom has been a rich target for cyber criminals and malicious actors,” even in Massachusetts high school lessons, with trolls revealing teachers’ home addresses.
Photo: Antisemitic texts in chat from Zoom shiur
Photo Source: Elazar Abrahams