By Isabel Silverman
Hillel building a Sukkah to celebrate Sukkot. Estie Heller (second to left), President of Hillel at Purchase, has spoken about the incident in the Music Building and how it was threatening to Jewish students (Photo by Donna Cornachio)
With the rise of anti-Semitism globally, certain incidents this school year have led Jewish students to feel afraid of being on campus.
The University Police Department (UPD) sent out a campus wide email alerting students of a hate crime that occurred on campus following Rosh Hashanah this year. In the Music Building, an Israeli national flag, displayed among an array of other national flags, and the wall behind it were defaced. Discovered by a member of Hillel at Purchase, the vandalized language included anti-Semitic rhetoric with references to Jews and Israelis murdering infants.
“I struggle with the question ‘when does anti-Zionism become anti-Semitism?’” said Rachel Klein, Executive Director at Hillels of Westchester. “The recent defacement of the Israeli flag in the Music Building is more clear to me. Had the perpetrator expressed only political views, the incident still would have been unfortunate because the anonymity of the crime dismissed opportunity for learning and growth. But the summoning of age-old anti-Semitic tropes like the ‘blood libel’ crosses the line.”
Blood libel is the idea that the Jewish people murder Christians, especially Christian children, and is a false allegation that has been made against the Jewish community going back to the middle ages.
Esti Heller, President of Hillel at Purchase, called the situation, “a threat to Jewish life on campus. Whether it’s through incidents like this or through students' mentality.”
As this is currently an open and on-going investigation, UPD is unable to reveal much information to the public at this time, they say. UPD says they are continuing to conduct interviews, comb through video surveillance, have units specifically looking for related items of concern, and work with partners in the county and constituents across campus in response to the incident, which occurred on Sept. 20.
Hillel at Purchase and Hillel’s of Westchester are both working closely and remain in communication with UPD. UPD has put extra patrols in the buildings and has added police presence at Hillel at Purchase events in hopes of making all Purchase students feel safe.
“The average person on campus assumes that most people are at least tolerant of all,” said Dayton Tucker, Chief of UPD. “But there are many cases when you’ll find people, outliers, who want to do things to kind of disrupt and hurt.”
Following the discovery and reporting of the hate crime, Hillel at Purchase initiated an emergency meeting to support students on campus who were affected. Noah Schwartz, Treasurer of Hillel at Purchase, has faced hate speech online. “It’s different when it’s physical. When it’s in person,” Shwartz said. “It was kind of like a shock, emotionally.”
American Muslim Club (AMC) also made an instagram post regarding the donation of their remaining funds to Hillel at Purchase. “It’s not often that you see vocal allyship between Muslim and Jewish people,” said Aliya Bashir, PSGA Chair of Senate and co-founder/former
Following the incident, Hillel released a response on their
Instagram page (Photo via @Hillelatpc on Instagram)
President of AMC.
Purchase's American-Muslim club decided to donate their remaining funds to Hillel, as AMC currently has no e-board members to function (Photo via Americanmuslimclubpc)
Approximately a week later, Dr. Milly Peña, Purchase College President, sent out an email to update the Purchase community. “In addition to offering my heartfelt support for our Jewish students, faculty, staff, and community members during this time,” Dr. Peña said. “I wanted to let you know that we are collaborating on a plan to combat anti-Semitism through education, dialogue, and empathy focused on intergroup allyship.”
While Hillel at Purchase is in support of the freedom of speech, they do not agree when speech is used to target and create fear in a group of people. The Jewish community is far from stranger when it comes to anti-Semitism throughout history, and right now, Hillel at Purchase is urging their Jewish students to stand strong in their Judaism.
“As our history teaches, to thrive after adversity is part of our Jewish DNA,” Klein said. “Be proudly Jewish.”