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Campus Mezuzah Attacks

Campus Mezuzah Attacks

At one California college, anti-Semitism repeatedly rears its ugly head.

by

College is a time of making new friends, expanding horizons, and learning how to get along with others.

For Bryan Turkel, a senior at Claremont McKenna College near Los Angeles, this week was a grim lesson in how U.S. college campuses are falling short of these ideals – especially when it comes to anti-Semitism.

photo credits: Jacob Avanzato

In three separate events this past month, vandals:

  • tore the Mezuzah off Turkel's dormitory door
  • pried open a window and stole the Israeli flag from his wall
  • stole a replacement Mezuzah from his door

Following the first incident, the local Chabad replaced the one mezuzah with 30 mezuzahs – for the dorm rooms of every member of Turkel's AEPi chapter (the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi with 10,000 member students worldwide).

"The proper response to such a situation," says Rabbi Ben Packer of Jerusalem, "is to increase that same Jewish identification that the anti-Semites are trying to blot out."

Packer, the manager of Jerusalem's Heritage House youth hostel who'd become friendly with Turkel during his visit to Israel, hand-delivered an Israeli flag to replace the one torn down from Turkel's room – plus another 9 flags for the rooms of Turkel's AEPi brothers.

When the idea was raised of increasing public identification with Judaism and Israel in response to the attack – were the fraternity brothers concerned about becoming the next victims?

"My brothers were all incredibly supportive. Nobody expressed any fear of being targeted in a hate crime," Turkel told Aish.com. "We were more focused on how to provide a strong response that would send the right message on behalf of the Jewish community – the message that no threat or intimidation can stop us from proudly displaying our Jewish identity."

Related article: "Mezuzah on a Dorm Room?"

Nationwide Epidemic

Turkel's response is the exception, given that U.S. college students have become increasingly reluctant to openly display their Jewish identification. This past year has seen a disturbing rise of anti-Semitism on American college campuses:

  • Swastikas were found spray-painted on the AEPi houses at Emory University and the University of Oregon.
  • Jewish students at colleges including NYU, Northeastern and University of Michigan awoke to find fake eviction notices posted on their doors.
  • The Student Senate president at Ohio University – in a parody of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – doused herself in fake blood and urged students to boycott Israel whom she claimed was committing "genocide" against Palestinians.

Things have gotten so bad that the Simon Wiesenthal Center has launched a mobile app, CombatHateU, giving college students a way to immediately report incidents of anti-Semitism on campus.

Students can't be expected to confront this alone.

Turkel describes these acts as "a merging of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism where Jews are intimidated and attacked for their support of Israel." He pointed to the propensity of anti-Israel groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine to stage "die-ins" outside of Jewish religious organizations, and still call it "anti-Zionism."

Another member of AEPi, Elliott Hamilton, pointed out that "by stealing the mezuzah, it cannot be deemed as simply anti-Zionism but rather undisputed anti-Semitism."

A leading organization supporting students to stand up against anti-Israel propaganda on campus is Aish’s Hasbara Fellowships program (www.hasbarafellowships.org).  Hasbara Fellowships educates and trains students to educate their peers on campus about Israel, including how to defeat BDS motions on campus. “Since this past summer’s events in Israel and Gaza, we have seen anti-Israel activities on campus rise about 50% compared to last year,” said Hasbara Fellowships Executive Director Elliot Mathias. “It’s crucial that Jewish students have the education and training to defend and promote Israel on their campuses.”

Seeking Solutions

Signs indicate that campus anti-Semitism is reaching epidemic proportions. A comprehensive 2011 study of Religious Tolerance on Campus, which surveyed over 1,400 students in the United States, found that over 40 percent of students confirm anti-Semitism on their campus.

What steps can be taken to address this problem? Packer says that "students can't be expected to do it alone," and need more of the resources and support provided by national Jewish organizations such as Aish and Olami.

Rabbi Chananel Weiner of Aish Boston, who runs the "Aish4AEPI Israel Experience," concurs. "There have always been Jewish students on campus afraid to identify with their roots. But today it's worse because many Jewish students would like to proudly identify but simply don't know how to respond to the anti-Israel campus culture."

What is the solution?

"These students need our help," says Rabbi Weiner. "We have to engage them in meaningful Jewish experiences that empower, inspire, and educate. If we fail to intervene and provide more resources, we are at risk of losing a generation of Jewish students."

Academic Hatred

The root of the problem, many contend, is with the academics who are often at the forefront of anti-Israel activities such as the BDS boycott movement.

Turkel blames the hate environment on "a twisted interpretation of academic freedom that leads many intellectuals to defend these hateful messages, while at the same time calling for censorship of Zionist or Jewish speakers."

Hamilton points to various anti-Semitic incidents involving professors, whose actions "make life particularly uncomfortable for Jewish students," he says.

  • At Kent State University, tenured professor Julio Pino refers to his students as “little Jihadists” and has been known to publicly chant, “Death to Israel.”
  • American University professor Hillary Mann Leverett claimed that anti-Semitism is nonexistent in the Middle East, despite the fact that Islamic State recently called for a second Holocaust against the Jews.
  • The University of Illinois recently rescinded the contract for a professor who – following the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Jewish Israeli teenagers – tweeted his hope that all “West Bank settlers would go missing."

As student Elliott Hamilton says: "Despite an academic community that preaches liberal values of tolerance and equality, the Claremont Colleges rarely discuss violations of human rights in Muslim countries, even genocidal actions of the Islamic State. By not highlighting these violations, we accept a double standard that should have no place in a liberal arts environment."

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 30

(18) Michael, November 17, 2014 6:04 AM

Enough already !

Where does all this hate for Jews and Israel stem from. It is 2014 and you would think the hater' are all in their graves.
It really makes me ill hearing this hate is still going around and I thought the younger generation would be a more kinder generation.
I retired from Law Enforcement, both local and federal in Chicago, Our Rabbi, the police chaplian, walks on water with all L E officers; wheather Jew or Gentile. I can say I am proud of Chicago people in their quest to treat all people with respect.
May our Heavenly Father bless all Jews and the great state of Israel. I will add that may the Almighty bless the grand staff of AISH.COM for all they do for people of our world.

Dr John Crow, December 1, 2014 8:32 PM

The oldest hatred

You said you thought the young would be kinder.
I am sorry to say this, but there is a RISE in anti-Semitism (more properly Jew-hatred) all over the world, I love the jews (my wife is one) but I encountered anti-Semitism in a small town in the UK, neighbours shouting "seig heil" we have since moved. It is only going to get worse so we have to toughen up and fight back against the haters.

(17) Ruth, November 16, 2014 7:49 PM

fooling themselves

What these attackers don't realize, or don't care about, is that GOD doesn't approve of what they are doing. If it was me--I would speak out MORE about me being a Jew. Jews at collages, schools, on their jobs, & in their everyday lies--should NEVER back-down from who they are. May God be with them.

(16) Beverly Margolis-Kurtin, November 16, 2014 4:56 PM

We were warned

One of the things that caused me to "lose it" was when a certain bigot wanted to make our neighborhood a HOA. Why did she want to do that? Because the "wrong kind of people" were moving in.
I played with her as one might play with a kitten (except there was nothing cute about her). Oh yes, I've seen Hispanics, blacks and even a Jewish family!
"A JEWISH FAMILY?" Who, when, how?
It was then that I pointed to the mezuzah on the door and the Star of David that hangs in the entryway.
I then reminded her that it was 2014, the kind of thing she was trying to set up was unlawful. I told her that we'd lived her for about 20 years and this was the first time I'd had a bigot ring my doorbell and hopefully the last.
To my neighbors' credit, not a single one of the gave her more than 60 seconds and then told her to get off their door step.
She wound up moving.
I am WILD about the applications that are coming up to bolster Israel's reputation. There is one, Israel Under Fire that was created by 17 year-old high school students. Very we done.
The most encouraging thing is that despite the Jew haters, we are stil alive and going strong. Baruch Hashem!

(15) brian, November 15, 2014 10:53 PM

interesting? holocaust?

Maybe I am wrong but I thought the terrorist groups say the holocaust never happened and now they admit it did happen. By wanting another holocaust. Truth is just and righteous those who want to know the truth will listen and believe it. Those who don't will close their ears to it and follow the lies of the enemies of truth and righteousness. May G-D seal our hearts with his truth and righteousness and keep us safe in the fires to come and the battles we shall face.

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