What About Self-Defense?

By Arkady Mamaysky

A Krav Maga class. Photo courtesy of Peter Haskin for Jewish News.

Almost every day, we hear and read news about verbal and even physical attacks of Jewish students on college campuses. In many instances, it makes their lives on campuses very difficult and even dangerous.

Some Jewish leaders and organizations have reacted in the following ways: appealing to authorities, appealing to college administrations, calling on Jewish organizations to protest and educate the public through the media, organizing Jewish student protest events on campuses, and so on. Incidentally, if alumni of universities whose administrations do not take strong actions to stop anti-Semitic attacks would refuse to provide financial support, and if Jewish parents would stop enrolling their kids in these institutions, it would also help.

Listening to some Jewish leaders lament about the “poor” Jewish students who are sometimes beaten up on campuses, one cannot help but think that, even though all the reactions mentioned above are fine, there is one more that shouldn’t be overlooked. Namely, to encourage Jewish kids to learn self-defense – they should have the ability to defend themselves and work out to be physically strong.

Jewish students constitute a minority on their campuses. But when a minority is well-organized, united, and capable in the art of self-defense, it becomes a force to reckon with.

One of the important functions of university and college Hillels must be to unite Jewish students, regardless of their political views, and strongly promote self-defense classes to them.

This does not, by any means, suggests extremism or aggressiveness against anybody, nor does it undermine the function or campus police departments. The message should be similar to Israel’s message to its neighbors: “We want to be friends with everybody, but be aware: We are well-organized and capable.”

Since self-defense is an important aspect of preparing Jewish kids for college and life in the world, every Jewish school should have self-defense as a mandatory part of kids’ physical education. Also, every Jewish summer camp and JCC should offer it to Jewish campers.

Also, parents can enroll them in one of the many widely-available self-defense schools in their city or town.

For another form of self-defense, parents can provide their children with cell phones so that they can call their parents or 911 in case of emergency. Families can also learn de-esclation skills for non-combative ways to calm situations.

It was nice to recently learn about some Muslim Americans’ generous offer to protect a Synagogue after anti-Semitic threats. As nice as it was, the time has come for Jewish people to be able to protect themselves by themselves. And this ability should be taught from an early age.

Life experiences in this often unfriendly world will make kids appreciate their parents’ efforts in this respect.

For some self-defense schools in and around Philadelphia:



  1. says

    Today we deal with a coarsening of community life, the emergence of bullying in high places, and for some, a belief that we are so victimized that it is allowable for us to follow suit. It is not.

    Self-defense is not at issue. Nobody opposes being able to mount a vigorous self-defense.

    But “almost every day” I do not hear or read about physical attacks on Jewish students – not here, not in Israel, not in Europe. I hear about, and when I go to a campus I observe, Jewish college students doing just fine at educational institutions across America. Two of my granddaughters will enter Harvard and Stanford, respectively, as freshmen this September. I am not at all concerned at that prospect.

    Should my granddaughters help organize Jewish students to become a “force to reckon with”? If we take that approach we should expect other minorities to do likewise. And ultimately, as night follows day, segments of the public we identify as the “majority” are likely to organize themselves as “forces to reckon with.”

    I suspect that if each ethnic group on campus organized to become a force to reckon with, the college campuses across the country would become much less hospitable places for our minority and most others.

    If we become hysterical about an infrequent threat, and we organize as a force to reckon with, we are adding our voices to the coarseness of our society and undermining the mutual respect that we all seek.

  2. Jewish Reader says

    Having graduated from college just over ten years ago, I remember feeling like a weak, lone voice in the midst of an organized, vehemently anti-Israel majority. I recall so many troubling incidents on campus: There was the Student Senate’s misguided and antagonistic boycott, divest, and sanction vote. And the student group that brought a hostile, malevolent anti-Israel professor to speak before a huge audience, with just myself and an 80 year-old Jewish professor objecting to the content of his lecture. Of course, there were also the “intellectuals” who sowed radical anti-Israel sentiment in their classrooms, and consequently, the anti-Israel activist groups that organized campus-wide protests. I would much rather be among an organized minority on this inhospitable, unwelcoming campus than a lone Jewish voice on the same campus.

    I appreciate the sentiment, Mr. Myers, that violence begets violence, but the author of this article doesn’t advocate for violence. From my read, Mr. Mamaysky envisions organized Jewish students who know self-defense and, by virtue of knowing it, don’t need to use it. Refusing to be bullied — and feeling the dignity that comes from that refusal — is a far cry from becoming the bully.

    If our minority is organized and capable of defending itself, then perhaps more students and professors would speak out against the hostile, anti-Israel voices that bombard them on campus. If individual Jewish students band together and don’t fear physical retaliation, wouldn’t more of them engage in dialog to defend Israel?

    Speaking for myself, had I studied self-defense in college alongside a group of Jewish peers, we wouldn’t have gone anywhere looking for a fight; but we would have felt more comfortable showing up where we weren’t wanted and speaking our minds.

    Self-defense is empowering. The highest goal of a martial artist is not to use their art, but to benefit from its knowledge in other aspects of life. Jewish students would use the knowledge exceptionally rarely, but it would empower them to become stronger, more prominent voices for positive change on their campuses by alleviating the fear of engaging in dialog with a highly-organized and often-hostile opposition.

    That opposition isn’t going anywhere. If anything, it’s growing. The only question is whether Jewish students will face it disorganized and alone or standing tall, organized and together. I would opt for the latter approach every time.

  3. Arkady Mamaysky says

    Mr. Myers’ negative comment brings back memories of the mentality of elderly Jews during my early youth in the former Soviet Union. It was a mentality that was etched into their minds by life in Russia’s Jewish shtetls. I heard their warning many times: “If they (goyim) attack you, don’t resist, just hide or run away. If you resist, it will make it even worse and, after all, they don’t attack us every day.”

    And so it was: After being attacked and humiliated, their only response was, “Oy vey.”

    This mentality is a relic of the past — if not for Mr. Myers, for the majority of proud Jewish people.

  4. Joe Magid says

    I don’t know about the well organized part, but I can certainly vouch for the many benefits of learning self defense. I didn’t pick up Tai Chi and a bit of a couple of other Kung Fu styles until I was in my 30’s, but wish I had done so much sooner. My two sons have participated in mixed martial arts training with the same teachers I learned from for many years. They both gained much in self esteem, a knowledge that they could stand up for themselves if needed, and most importantly, the importance of avoiding confrontation whenever possible and knowing that doing so isn’t an admission of weakness, but an expression of intelligence.

    I would ask that you please add Mr. A’s Martial Arts in Havertown to the list. The instructors were first trained by a master of multiple Kung Fu styles and have since incorporated knowledge garnered from a host of masters in a wide range of martial arts into their program. They also do a great job working with kids to boost self esteem and develop life skills while having lots of fun.

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