Senior Retrospectives: Jesser Horowitz

I can’t remember how many times freshman year I wanted to transfer. It had a been a difficult, two-semester transition: Vassar wasn’t my first choice school, and I was still struggling to find my purpose here. Rampant anti-Semitism on campus and a frustratingly stodgy political climate left me nostalgic for simpler days. Even though I had friends, and for the most part enjoyed my classes, I felt isolated.

I spent hours deliberating over this piece—what message I wanted to send, how I would write it, and why it was important. I decided to ditch every idea I had. All I want to say is thank you. Thank you to The Miscellany News, who gave me purpose. Thank you to Chabad, who gave me a community. Thank you to the Access and Mock Trial Exec Boards, who have given me a place on campus. Thank you to my entire campus family, who have paid me a service so great that I doubt I could repay it in a thousand lifetimes.

To The Miscellany News:

I wasn’t even at Vassar College for a month before I wrote my first article for The Miscellany News. The Opinions Editor at the time had heard that I had been regularly going to VSA meetings, and that I was vocal about my (oftentimes unpopular) opinions. And so, based on that information, she reached out to me about writing an article for The Misc, which I gladly accepted. My first ever article was about the meal plans at Vassar; It wasn’t very good, and, for my sake, I would ask you not to look it up.

I have written on a variety of topics for the Misc over the years: anti-Semitism, Zionism, disability rights, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, gun control, political correctness, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump. Some of these articles I stand behind fully, some I still agree with in part and some I regret entirely. However, no matter how out of step my politics were with the mainstream of Vassar College, The Miscellany News always offered me a safe, censorship-free space to express my ideas and hone my writing skills. I believe that this space has been valuable to me, and I hope it has been equally valuable to my readership, whom I wish to thank for taking the time out of your days to read a little bit about some important issues to which you may not have devoted much thought.

I also wish to thank the many editors at The Miscellany News that have provided so much help and guidance along the way, especially graduating Opinions Editor Steven Park. Steven, if you are a reading this, which I suspect that you are, I want you to know that I have tremendous, tremendous respect for you. I would lucky to be even half the writer that you are. I owe you personally a monumental debt. Your notes and supervision have made me a far better writer than I could ever hope to be without you.

The Miscellany News is a strong, proud institution—one that I am pleased to call the home to my writings. You can be certain that I’ll write back every once in a while to defend the dignity of the Oxford Comma, the greatest invention of the English language. I’ll be reading next year from across the sea. I’ll miss this paper.

To Chabad:

2015 was a difficult year to be a Jew at Vassar College. I don’t intend to delve into the details as this precise moment, but suffice to say that quite a few students at Vassar disguised blatantly anti-Semitic actions as mere criticism of Israel, and many of my Jewish friends either shied away from Jewish life or decided to leave the school entirely.

It wasn’t the first time I had ever faced anti-Semitism, but it was my first time confronting popular anti-Semitism—whenever some ill-informed kid back home made some comments about Jews, I could reliably know that it wouldn’t be received well; for the first time, now, I couldn’t be so sure. Even explicit anti-Semitism—a student writing “fuck Jews” on YikYak, for example—was dismissed as merely an attempt to criticize Israel. It’s hard to be proud of who you are in such an environment.

It was my friend Jason Storch ’17 who first invited me to attend Chabad services with him. “Invited” may be the wrong word for it—he had almost demanded it as a way to avoid rhetorical hypocrisy. I spent much of my first-year writing in defense of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, and he would not have me being yet another “as a Jew, Jew,” as he called it. If this was fight I was committed to, I needed to at least try to engage with my Jewish identity.

I owe him a tremendous debt. Jason, if you’re reading is, which you most definitely are, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Attending weekly Shabbat services at the Chabad was one of the best decisions I ever made, and it’s one that I know I would have been unable to make without his push. I immediately fell in love with Chabad: I was the only one of my siblings to ever take a liking to services as a kid, and although at that point I was still an atheist, I felt an almost tangible power that came with services. In the faith of others I found a personal faith. I started going every week—and a year later I started wearing a yarmulke.

My original reasons for doing so were more cultural than religious—I was tired of passing. I wanted to be visible, I wanted everyone I met to know who I am and what I value. I still didn’t think I really believed in God, and I never thought I would. And yet, while attending the most secular school in the United States of America, I found God in a small house off Fulton Avenue. This has had a more profound impact that any other event in my life. I’m a more open person now, a more accepting person.

I also entered a loving community of people who care about me. The Rabbi and his family, who taught me so much about Judaism, and the myriad of people I’ve met there over the years, are like a home away from home. They have transformed the course of my life. I pray they will continue to shape lives for years to come.

To the Access Executive Board:

At the end of my first year, my friend Charles Callejo, then the President of Access, approached me with an offer to take over the org from him. I was still coming to terms with myself as a disabled person, and had never before done serious advocacy work. But, I took the job, in part because of its importance and in part due to my own arrogance. I’ve been President throughout my sophomore, junior and senior years, overseeing good times and bad. I hope now that I have designed something that has the ability to last.

To the members of Access, thank you for giving me the chance to lead our little band of activists for the past three years. Thank you for taking on the fight, and for the first time making me truly confident that it will survive long after I’ve graduated. Remember the words of Justin Dart: “Oppressed americans have made a miracle of progressive, but for too many of us the dream is still a promise to be kept….We have learned a hard lesson, nobody is going to give us the dream…We who have been left out must unite with all who love justice.”

To the Mock Trial Executive Board:

When I took over the Mock Trial Team halfway through my freshman year, we were on the verge of becoming defunct. As I look back on all the progress we’ve made, it’s hard to even grasp how far we’ve come. Seeing every one of you train every year to become the best lawyers and witnesses you can be is honestly one of the most profound honors of my life. It’s humbling to know how much talent our team has. All of you have promising careers ahead. I believe in you, and in the team that we helped build together. Thank you, for spending so much time with us.

To Dylan Smith ’20, Brianna Serredas, Jonas Trostle ’21 and Lyla Menaker ’22—thank you for keeping the org alive. Thank you for dedicating your time and energy next year to leading our group forward. No matter how we do, how many tournaments we win, how we perform in the end, I’ll be watching from across the sea with pride.

To my campus family:

It’s funny how little choice we have in who enters our lives. I have in fallen in love with so many people on this campus—there are friends I’ve made during my time here that I consider family. There are so many people who have made this campus a home for me that I would not dare to even attempt to list them. I would hate to not thank someone who deserves it. And so I thank you all, and hope that those of you reading know who you are, and how much I love you.

My campus family have done a service for me that I do not believe I could repay in a thousand lifetimes: they have improved the course of my life, made me a better person and gave me a home at a college where I never thought I would have one. I believe that I am ready to graduate. I know that I am not ready to leave you. Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

So, I choose not to do so here. Instead, thank you. Thank you for your love and support over these past four years. I couldn’t be here with you. I love you all.

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