Colorado State Jewish community values heritage, integration

Josephine Bush

Yishai Statter, an Israeli doctorate student in electrical and computer engineering, discusses his Jewish/Israeli identity at one of the stations in the Scott building. Statter expressed the oppression he has faced living as minority. (Photo credit: Hannah Hemperly)
Yishai Statter, an Israeli doctorate student in electrical and computer engineering, discusses his Jewish/Israeli identity at one of the stations in the Scott building. Statter expressed the oppression he has faced living as minority. (Photo credit: Hannah Hemperly)

The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East have brought light to what it means to be a minority at Colorado State University.

CSU students Zach Josephs and Tucker Hensen, members of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity on campus, value the importance of their Jewish heritage and community on campus.

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“We acknowledge the shyness and hesitation that many students feel towards embracing what makes them different, because many of us came to school with that exact same mindset,” said Hensen, one of the AEPi founding fathers and a mechanical engineering senior.

Hensen said the fraternity offers brotherhood and an opportunity for involvement for Jewish students on campus.

“It’s more about the culture that has been built along with the history that we can associate with,” Hensen said.

Josephs, a sophomore English major, thinks there is more to the conflict in the Middle East than meets the eye.

“It’s a weighted issue … it is hard to say if there is a right or wrong side,” Josephs said.

Yishai Statter, a Israeli doctorate student in electrical and computer engineering, said it’s difficult to have open discussion about the conflict, even in his Fort Collins community.

“I have a typical Jewish story … my grandfather survived the war (WWII), but the rest of his family was killed,” Statter said. “(Jewish people) are sensitive to public opinion as we have suffered from negative opinions in the past.”

Statter’s paternal grandfather was held as a prisoner of war in Poland, and, after release, sent to Asia to work in a sweatshop for the Soviet Union. Upon returning to Poland, his entire family was killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“There is oppression everywhere,” Statter said.

On his mother’s side, Statter’s family also faced oppression living in Iraq as a minority group. His mother’s family fled to Israel in the 1950s to seek freedom and safety, and Statter was born there.

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“I remember dinners with all of the relatives where suddenly they would start speaking Arabic and then someone would burst into tears,” he said.

Today, Statter resides with his family in Fort Collins where he sends his children to public schools and hopes they live a happy and tolerant life.

“We don’t teach hate … the Israeli code of conduct is to teach right and wrong,” Statter said.

According to Hensen, Israel is not only home to Jewish people – about a fifth of the country is comprised of Christians and Muslims.

“In Jerusalem – the ultimate holy state for several religions – you can have Jewish people going to the Western Wall and then Muslims going to the Dome of the Rock and respecting each other,” Hensen said.

Hensen hopes this tolerance and acceptance will reach the minorities at CSU, and thinks study abroad programs are a way for students to gain a more accepting cultural perspective.

“Even if someone were to go to Taiwan, while they most likely wouldn’t be shocked by any display of Judaism, they would at least be exposed to the cultural differences of a country that is mostly Buddhist, and hopefully gain a better appreciation for the things that are minorities in our home culture,” Hensen said.

Josephs hopes to see minorities at CSU less isolated and more integrated into campus community.

“We have so many international students on our campus that are so isolated,” Josephs said. “As part of the Jewish community, a minority, I want to start to reach out to other minorities and see more integration.”

Collegian Reporter Josephine Bush can be reached at news@collegian.com and on Twitter @josbush620