May 2, 2024

GROSSMAN | Let Us Show Compassion and Understanding for Each Other

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In the last few months, I have spoken with dozens of Jewish students. The picture that emerges from all of these meetings is a sad one. The disruptions that we have experienced in the last half a year have resulted in tremendous pain, shared by many members of our community. 

I have also spoken with others at Cornell who told me that they feel the disruptions we see on campus are minimal and have caused no harm at all. The same claims have been made in the many letters published in The Cornell Daily Sun by multiple faculty members accepting — and even praising and encouraging — disruption by students of other students, faculty and staff. This complete disregard for the pain experienced by members of the Jewish community is itself a source of pain. 

Too many people cannot study or work in the toxic environment that we have on campus. We are on the brink of losing control of the situation. Let us stop it before it is too late. I am writing to all of the people who are promoting disruptions to rethink what they are doing. I am asking for acknowledgment of the pain that so many of us are experiencing.

For that reason, I am sharing with you what I said at an event on campus on Oct. 25. What was correct then is even more needed now. I hope we can all draw on our empathetic side.

Below is my speech:

My name is Yuval Grossman, and I am a professor of physics at Cornell University. I was born in Jerusalem and grew up In Nahariya, seven miles from the Lebanon border. I am all too familiar with the horrors of war. My father was killed when I was five in the war with Syria. When I was nine, terrorists came from the sea into our street and murdered a friend of mine from school. For years after that event, every night before I went to sleep my sister, mom and I blocked the entrance door with a big table. I remember my mom telling me that this big table would protect us.

How did I cope with my personal loss? After years of pain and inability to act, I chose the route of peace. I have learned Arabic and made many Palestinian friends. I have joined the Parents Circle Families Forum, a joint Israeli-Palestinian organization of people who have lost an immediate family member to the ongoing conflict. I have been teaching physics in Palestinian schools. I did the little I could do to make our world a better place.

And then came Oct. 7. The pain. The pictures. A daughter of a high school friend of my wife was murdered at the festival. A nephew of a dear friend of mine is a hostage in Gaza. And the list goes on. The wounds of the past were reopened. In the last few weeks, I have been full of pain. I can hardly eat or sleep. I know many of you are in the same state. It is the darkest era of my life.

Unfortunately, even our campus became a place full of hate. We all heard the words. Each of them is like a sharp sword in our hearts. We saw the graffiti. We saw a professor taking down one of our posters. We saw the Native American program at CALS organizing an inflammatory event. When I was standing here a few days ago with my small flag to show support and love, a student flipped me off.

I asked my dear friend Sleman, a Palestinian from Nazareth, what he would like to say to the Jewish students at Cornell, and that is what he told me: “In particular in moments of desperation, one must believe that after the war peace will come. Now, more than ever, I believe in peace. A real peace. We were not born here to fight each other. We were born here to love each other, to understand each other, so that we will live peacefully together on that land.”

To make the dream of Sleman come true in Israel, will take time. Yet, I hope that we can do it now, here, at Cornell. I am standing here with a plea to my colleagues. We are professors in one of the best universities in the world. We are here to set an example for our students. The world is watching us. Let us show respect, compassion and understanding. I humbly ask you not to use hateful words during these times, even if we have the right to do so. Despite all the personal pain that we are experiencing, now it is our time to lead and support our students.

I would like to send a message to all of our students. I am here for you! I will talk with you and support you. It can be in English, Arabic or Hebrew. I do not care where your pain is coming from. My job now is to help you deal with that pain.

I will conclude with words from a famous Israeli song by Shalom Hanoch: Walk Against the Wind. I would like to say it in the three languages:

 It’s always darkest before dawn

اكثر الاوقات عتمه قبل طلوع الفجر

תמיד הכי חשוך לפני עלות השחר 

Thank you all for being here.

Yuval Grossman is a Professor of Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences.

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