CJC and VJU invite speaker Dara Horn

Julia Weinberg/The Miscellany News.

On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Friday Jan. 26, Dara Horn visited campus to speak on combating antisemitism and her book “People Love Dead Jews.” Invited by Chabad Jewish Community (CJC) and Vassar Jewish Union (VJU), Horn is an acclaimed novelist, essayist and professor. 

Published in 2021, “People Love Dead Jews” is an essay collection exploring how we talk about and commemorate Jewish history. CJC President Julia Segal ’24 explained while introducing Horn, that “‘People Love Dead Jews’ deals with the real and imagined Jewish past—from the story that we like to tell about Anne Frank to the stories that American Jews tell themselves about Ellis Island and Jewish immigration to this country.”

The event was also sponsored by The President’s Office, the Psychology Department, Asian Studies, The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices (RSLCP), The Office of Living and Wellness, and Engaged Pluralism (EP). Director of EP, Prof. Jonathon Kahn, explained that the organizers of the lecture applied to EP for funding through their Igniter Pitch grants. The EP website describes Igniter Pitch projects as those that “foster belonging, equity, and/or dialogue between social groups in the Vassar community.” In a written correspondence, Kahn noted, “The Horn applicants emphasized the importance of dialogue around the issue of antisemitism on our campus, and in their application spoke about the importance of engaging the broader Vassar community on this issue.”

The lecture started at 4:30 p.m., coinciding with Shabbat and the Muslim Maghrib prayer time. To honor these practices, a microphone was not used and a prayer room was reserved upstairs. 

Segal noted that the organization’s affiliate advisor Dalia Sanoff had the idea to bring Horn to campus a few years ago, but that Oct. 7 was the impetus for finally making that happen. In her introduction, VJU President Rebecca Schwartz ’25 noted, “We’re just hearing so much about antisemitism now and I wanted someone who could take a step back and walk us through it from a historical angle.”

Julia Weinberg/The Miscellany News.

Segal added, “At Vassar, we deeply value thinking critically about the world around us, and examining our role within a broader socio-historical context.” She continued, “When first presented with the opportunity to bring Dara Horn to campus, I immediately viewed this as an important continuation of these conversations with an accomplished scholar who has dedicated her work to the questions we have only started to scratch the surface of.”

One attendee of the lecture, Zander Swift ’26, said in a written correspondence, “I went because I think anti-Semitism has been a big point of discussion on college campuses and when people speak about education, as a result of the Israel-Palestine conflict.” He continued, “I’ve also been learning a lot about the atrocities of the conflict, particularly those perpetuated by the Israeli state against the Palestinian people, and I think the weaponization of the term ‘anti-Semitism’ is rising along with the very real threat of anti-Semitism itself.” 

At the start of her talk, Horn thanked the audience for coming and not avoiding these hard conversations, noting, “The uncomfortable moments are where the story is.” She worked in humor throughout the lecture, engaging with the audience and fielding student questions at the end.

During the lecture Horn touched on her experience serving on Harvard’s Antisemitism Advisory Group after Oct. 7, commenting that she was inundated with concerns from Jewish students. She said some administrators were shocked, because it contradicted what they thought they knew about education—that it is antithetical to prejudice. 

Yet Horn pointed out that antisemitism is often the product of intellectuals who are building visions of a world built on the demonization of Jews. She added, “Antisemitism is the replacement of truth with lies.”

Her lecture then moved into a discussion of narratives about Zionism. She argued that people assume that Zionism is “nefarious,” or an aberration from history, but that it is similar to most nation states. 

Swift said, “As a whole, listening to her gave me greater understanding of how anti-Semitism and, to an extent, anti-Zionism have manifested historically and currently, but I wish there was more discussion within the student body on campus because I feel like people still have different perceptions of what ‘anti-Semitism’ means in the context of this global conflict.” 

Horn also spoke on where Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and Holocaust education often fail in combating antisemitism. She emphasized that Holocaust education is often framed as a case study on morality and erases living Jews.

After the talk, students gathered at the Chabad House to continue the conversation over Shabbat dinner. 

When asked what she hopes students took away from the lecture, Schwartz said, “I hope that they want to learn more. Like [Horn] says, that people use this as a jumping off point to learn things about Jewish culture that they didn’t already know or that they didn’t expect to learn.”

Rabbi Bryan Mann, the Assistant Director of the RSLCP, noted in an email to The Miscellany News, “We hope Jewish students especially came away feeling supported and more willing to talk with their trusted peers, faculty, staff, and administrators about their experiences on and off campus.” He added, “We hope the campus as a whole came away with a greater understanding of antisemitism and Dara Horn’s unique analysis; even as we recognize there are various analyses of and approaches to addressing antisemitism.”

One Comment

  1. I’m delighted to see that Dara Horn was invited to speak at Vassar. I wish I had advance notice so I could have tried to attend. She is an excellent writer and an important, enlightening voice in Jewish culture. This is especially important to have today. Don’t miss her fiction, it is wonderful.

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