Antisemitic activity is increasing across IU-Bloomington’s campus, specifically in residence halls such as Foster Quadrangle, Briscoe Quadrangle and McNutt Residence Center.
Rabbi Sue Silberberg, Hillel Foundation executive director, said the antisemitism she has seen started with the mezuzahs being torn off of student’s doors in the residence halls. A mezuzah is a prayer scroll Jewish people have on their doors and in their homes.
“In terms of the mezuzahs being torn down, initially people wondered if it might be vandalism and not antisemitism,” Silberberg said. “But it seems like because it continued in so many different cases, it seems like it was targeted at Jewish students and at their mezuzahs.”
Silberberg, along with other students and faculty members, have created a task force to combat antisemitic behavior at IU, she said. The first initiative is called the “mezuzah project,” aimed to help both Jewish and non-Jewish people create allies with each other, she said. The project offers free mezuzahs to anybody who is Jewish and helps hang them on their doors, she said. For those who are not Jewish, they can put up a mezuzah without a prayer inside and have a sticker on the front saying, “I stand with my Jewish friends.”
“We would really love to see as many students who are comfortable putting mezuzahs on their door to do that, for the non-Jewish students to stand in solidarity with their Jewish friends and to show that they support their friends,” Silberberg said. “And then for the Jewish students to be able to proudly proclaim that they’re Jewish.”
Along with the mezuzah initiative, Silberberg said the task force is doing co-sponsorships with residence halls and training with residence life staff. This gives staff members the chance to learn more about antisemitism and how to better understand Jewish residents, she said.
While she has not personally witnessed antisemetic incidents, IU freshman Kaylee Werner said she continues to hear stories from her peers on antisemitic issues they have dealt with. Werner wears a necklace with her Hebrew name on it proudly, and she said she enjoys educating people on the necklace.
“I think education is incredibly important,” Werner said. “If people are willing to learn, then that’s the first step we can take.”
Since being on campus, Werner has gotten involved with the task force and said she hopes to see it make a sustainable change.
Growing up, Werner was a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. On Oct. 27, 2018, the synagogue was the place of a white supremacist terrorist mass shooting, where 11 people died and more were injurred. Werner was not there at the time of the shooting, but she said that experience helped her understand the importance of preventing antisemitic behavior.
“It was the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States,” Werner said. “And it happened in my community. I, since then, have realized that you have to take preventative measures before something happens.”
IU freshman Lindsey Cooper said she has come across swastikas at locations off campus. While she obviously wants those to be taken down right away, she said she is more concerned with people not being educated about Judaism.
“One of the biggest things is creating Jewish allies and supporting our Jewish friends around campus,” Cooper said. “That is why a lot of times we host events where we want to include everyone from around campus. We want to make people aware of what Judaism is.”
While Judaism is a religion, she said it’s more of a culture of accepting people. She said Jews are not against anyone for who they are regarding sexuality, race and identity, and she hopes to help bring awareness to this.
“If you see antisemitism on campus, or someone criticising a Jew for being Jewish, stand up or report it,” Cooper said. “Be there for those who need it. We have one of the largest Jewish populations at a Big Ten school, but it’s still faced with a lot of oppression.”
Students can make a report to the Office of Institutional Equity if they have experienced discrimination or harassment.