MADISON, Wis. — Joshua Manders is a Jewish student studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Manders said since the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7, his life has become very stressful.
“It definitely has been tough, that first week where, the first few days, especially when the war first broke out, it is a lot of emotions to go through,” said Manders.
Manders has direct connections to the war. That’s not unlike many other Jewish students on the UW-Madison campus.
“I have a few friends who are serving in the [Israeli army],” said Manders. “It is one thing knowing we’re at war and it is another thing when you know the actual people and lives that are put on the front lines.”
Manders spends a lot of his free time at UW-Hillel, a group that provides a home for more than 4,000 Jewish students attending the college. He said since the war, it has become somewhat of a safe haven for him.
“It is very easy to get wrapped up in social media and the phone and everything but just recognizing and having a time to turn things off and engage with the Jewish community, it is super essential for mental health,” said Manders.
Greg Steinberger is the CEO and founder of UW-Hillel. He said for the past month he has been putting in 20-hour workdays.
“I have a good team here. I have a good staff but they are young. They are worried about their own personal safety,” said Greg Steinberger.
He said pro-Palestinian protest groups have been gathering outside of UW-Hillel, making the Jewish community on campus feel very uncomfortable.
“Listen, protests are protected speech, there are plenty of places to protest, they could be protesting in the public square, but coming here feels like it’s intimidating,” said Greg Steinberger.
He said many students have had to be escorted to and from the UW-Hillel building due to protests. Greg Steinberger said the harassment goes beyond their front doors.
“Jewish people are being singled out for being Jewish,” said Greg Steinberger. “Jewish residents with white boards are getting Swastikas written on them or ‘free Palestine.’”
Despite the ongoing protests and antisemitism, Greg Steinberger and his wife, Rabbi Andrea Steinberger, are doing what they can to make their building a safe, relaxing place.
Andrea Steinberger does that by hosting Challahbration.
“We know we have a lot of food we want to cook for Shabbat dinner and we know that cooking food can be a very joyful thing,” she said.
Andrea Steinberger invites students to come in every week and braid their own challah bread.
“It is an instant opportunity for students to feel less anxious, less worried and remember that even in challenging times there can be sweetness too,” she said.
It’s a program that has helped Manders forget about the war that is raging in Israel and Gaza, even if it is only for a short time.