By: Sruli Fruchter  | 

Anti-Semitic Trolls ‘Zoombomb’ President Berman’s Message to Student Body

Yeshiva University students and staff were subjected to a barrage of anti-Semitic messages and pictures as around a dozen anti-Semitic trolls abruptly joined a scheduled Zoom video conference call with President Ari Berman on Tuesday, March 31. The event, titled “A Special Message to Our Students,” began at 7:45 p.m. and was promoted via email to the student body.

This incident, a type of harassment known as “Zoombombing,” took place shortly after the video call began. Messages like “hail hitler,” “SHUT THE F--- UP JEWS,” and “IMMA GAS YALL” were sent into the Zoom chat, as President Berman spoke. The chat feature was disabled shortly after the messages began, prompting the trolls to begin holding anti-Semitic caricatures and memes to their video frames. One user showed a picture that read “THE HOLOCAUST NEVER HAPPENED.” 

This incident transpired as YU has moved classes, events and programs online via Zoom, following the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Wilf Campus in early March.

“When the first [troll] account joined, and I saw a Hitler background on the call, I assumed it was a YU student playing a sick joke,” shared Elazar Abrahams (YC ‘22), a student on the video call who later tweeted about the incident. “But as the rest of them followed, it soon became clear what was happening … We tend to forget how widespread anti-Semitism is.”

Once this incident began to unfold, Abrahams said, “YU locked the chat … and tried to kick everyone out. I’m not sure if they got everyone because it was hard to catch all of them.” 

According to Abrahams, President Berman “had no reaction” and “did not acknowledge” the crude messages and anti-Semitic pictures being shared by the anti-Semitic infiltrators. “He completed the speech through the chaos,” Abrahams commented. “I think he made the right call by ignoring it in the moment and just continuing the talk as normal. We can’t let these people win.”

President Berman was addressing around 150 students and faculty members when the incident occured. According to Jonah Loskove (SSSB ‘22), a student who was on President Berman’s video call when the incident occurred, the speech focused on “making the most” of the global COVID-19 pandemic because the current situation is happening “for a reason.”

“It is disheartening to see this act of blatant antisemitism,” added Loskove.

“‘Zoombombing’ is a new form of cyber-harassment that needs to be combated,” Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted. “What happened to these Yeshiva classes is yet another example of why we cannot allow this #antisemitic & #hateful targeting to continue.” He also shared a link with guidance by the ADL on how to respond to Zoombombing.

Under the condition of anonymity, one shiur assistant shared that MYP Mashgiach Rabbi Ely Bacon informed his group chat of shiur assistants that they “had to change things for sichas mussar tonight because Zoom accounts are getting bombed,” referring to the incident on President Berman’s video call. He went on to note that sichas mussar shiurim will be on a private channel that requires students to use a password to join, as opposed to sharing the information through email.

As classes move online to promote social distancing, Zoombombing has disrupted colleges nationwide, including the University of Southern California and Binghamton University

Earlier today, a Keren B’Yavneh (KBY) shiur given by Rabbi Moshe Stav was Zoombombed by trolls making anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic comments, according to Jacob Stern (YC and Katz ‘22). “[The trolls] were clearly talking to each other,” Stern observed, commenting that the Zoombombing seemed to be coordinated.

During a Zoom call by renowned Jewish scholar Rabbi Asher Weiss on Sunday, March 25, another Zoombombing incident took place. According to NBC News, in the midst of the calls, unknown participants began shouting “Hitler did nothing wrong” and “Heil Hitler,” while another held a copy of “Mein Kampf” to their screen.

On Monday, March 31, a similar incident occurred during a Zoom video call by Rabbi Dr. Zev Eleff (YC ‘09). Promoted on Facebook, the program was titled “The Rav” and featured a conversation with Dr. Tova Lichtenstein on Rabbi Joseph B. Solovetchik’s life and legacy. “About 150 people tuned into the class, including several rabbinic figures,” said Doniel Weinreich (YC ‘20), who was on the Zoom call when anti-Semitic trolls began to “Zoombomb” the program, shouting obscenities and screensharing pornography. According to Weinreich, after the conference was restarted with screensharing and chat disabled, most of the trolls left.

“We are deeply upset to hear about the incidents involving this type of attack,” a Zoom spokesperson told HuffPost about the YU Zoombombing incident, adding that Zoom “strongly condemns such behavior.”

YU has experienced incidents involving anti-Semitism before. Last fall, The Commentator reported that white supremacist forum Vanguard News Network posted hundreds of photos of former and current YU faculty and students, mocking Jews and ridiculing the YU community. The previous fall, numerous swastikas were found graffitied on various YU residencies, prompting an investigation by the New York City Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force, The Commentator reported at the time.

In a statement to The Commentator, President Berman said, “The experience highlighted to me how one’s true character is revealed during times of crisis. Haters will hate and a time of anxiety and pressure will bring that out even more. We respond, however, with love. Our goal is not simply to mute the hate but is to add more goodness and kindness in this world.”

YU did not return a request for comment on whether they will be pursuing legal action or police involvement.

Photo Caption: Two of the anti-Semitic images that were displayed on the Zoom call with President Berman.
Photo Credit: Elazar Abrahams