Elizabeth Rand, the OG ‘Mother Against College Antisemitism’
Never did Elizabeth Rand imagine, when she started a Facebook group called Mothers Against College AntiSemitism (MACA) on October 26, 2023, that within a month it would have more than 53,000 members. She began the group because, as mother to Zachary, a high school senior, she was alarmed by the explosion of antisemitism on many American university campuses just as he was applying to college. She figured that the new group might attract a few hundred, maybe 1,000 people.
But as it turned out, the 60-year-old attorney from Manhattan tapped into the widespread fears that grew along with antisemitism in the aftermath of the October 7 terror attacks in Israel and subsequent Israel-Hamas war. In its first month, MACA assembled an executive committee and is preparing to file for nonprofit status so it can fundraise with the goal of suing colleges that fail to protect Jewish students, Rand said.
Conversation in MACA is lively. Members post information about the antisemitism students are experiencing at campuses ranging from Virginia Commonwealth University to Ivies including Brown and Harvard. They discuss strategies and share contact information for university presidents as well as those leaders’ responses to parents’ letters of concern.
Rand’s activism is a bit of a surprise to her. She said she had been “minimally involved in Jewish life,” though Zachary went to camp and worked as a counselor at the 92nd Street Y, where the family attends occasional religious services. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Why has MACA attracted so many people—not just mothers and not only Jews?
I am as shocked as everyone else at how quickly it’s grown. I thought, “We can’t sit here on Facebook and complain all day. We have to do something.” I took inspiration from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They were ordinary mothers sick of losing their children to drunk drivers. They managed to change the drinking age from 18 to 21 across the country and withstand a Supreme Court challenge in 1987. They changed the way society views drunk driving. I want to change the way people think about antisemitism.
What has MACA accomplished so far, in addition to sharing information among members?
So many people have done letter-writing campaigns. The group, along with many others, got Arizona State University to pull Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan from speaking. Also with other groups’ support, we got the screening of the antisemitic movie Israelism canceled at a few places. Our members are incredible. I don’t want to take too much credit for the work being done. I had an idea and people are running with it.
Have there been disagreements within such a large group?
Some people thought the name was too similar to MAGA [President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan]. But it was already our acronym and out in public. I hope that MACA outlives MAGA. I want MACA to be known to students generations from now.
What was your reaction to the testimony of the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT before Congress?
They ALL need to be removed from their posts and should never work in academia again. The tone at these universities is set at the top. Genocide of Jews “depends on the context?” No, there isn’t a context where what’s been going on is acceptable. I’m disgusted, but also hopeful. The world now sees what Jewish students have been experiencing not only since October 7 but, in many instances, for decades. MACA looks forward to changing the academic landscape so that all Jewish students are safe in the immediate future and for generations to come.
What do you hope to see MACA be in the future?
I want MACA to be a go-to place if students are facing antisemitism so they can call, email or DM us. We will assess the situation, see if there’s something illegal happening, investigate if the college is violating its own code of conduct. We are not currently working with any of the other organizations doing legal work around college antisemitism, but we may in the future.
Not all protests are illegal. But there is a difference between a peaceful protest for Palestine and Jewish people being screamed at that they should go back to Berlin or being pushed and shoved. All these vile things are happening on campuses.
We can’t save the whole world. We can’t conquer everything, but we can start here.
With 53,000 people you can do a lot of things. There is power in numbers.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen, author of Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant, is a journalist living in New York City.