MADISON, Wis. — Jewish students and staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are in shock, following a group of nearly two dozen neo-Nazis marching through the city on Saturday.
The group chanted things like “Israel is not our friend,” and “there will be blood.” Madison's Mayor, Satya Rhodes-Conway, and the Madison Police Department condemned the group’s hateful rhetoric but couldn’t stop them. They said the group demonstrated lawfully under First Amendment “free speech” rights.
UW Madison junior, Ali Wagman, said she is still sick to her stomach that the group of neo-Nazis chose Madison as a place to gather. She said it’s scary to think that type of hate is so close to home.
“Receiving a message like that just made my stomach turn,” said Wagman. “It honestly sent chills down my spine. I couldn’t believe that was happening on my campus.”
The Neo-Nazi group waved swastika flags and yelled hateful words as they walked from campus to Capitol Square Saturday. They also stopped in James Madison Park, in front of the Gates of Heaven Synagogue. While Gates of Heaven is no longer a practicing synagogue, it is symbolic because it’s one of the oldest synagogues still standing in the U.S.
“It concerns me that it happened at the Wisconsin State Capitol where it’s supposed to represent what Wisconsin values,” said Wagman. “It makes me afraid that people can hop on that bandwagon.”
Wagman, and thousands of other Jewish students who go to school at UW Madison, have been finding solace and refuge at the Hillel Foundation. Hillel embodies Jewish values and works to support and cultivate the Jewish community on campus. It also provides catering and kosher foods to the university. Hillel Foundation President & CEO Greg Steinberger said hate has no home in Madison.
“I know that we live in a world where there are hateful people and there are extremists,” said Steinberger. “To see that in our city, in Madison, and on our college campus, it was disgusting and shocking.”
Steinberger and Hillel Rabbi & Senior Jewish Educator, Judy Greenberg, said they are doing everything they can to ease the fears of the Jewish community on campus. Rabbi Greenberg said she continues to share the message to “do good in the face of evil”.
“It’s easy in these moments to feel powerless, and doing extra kindnesses is a way for us to take back some of that power for ourselves,” said Rabbi Greenberg.
That message is something Wagman is taking to heart. She has been checking on her friends and said a lot of her Jewish and non-Jewish friends have been reaching out and checking on her during this time.
“It’s nice to know that people are recognizing that it’s real, and are being there for their Jewish community,” she said.
A new report out last month from the FBI showed that anti-Semitic hate crimes increased dramatically in 2022.
Jewish Americans are increasing worried about their personal safety amid an alarming rise in antisemitic incidents—particularly on college campuses—since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.