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November 17, 2021 6:25 pm

‘At Least a Dozen’ Mezuzah Thefts Prompts New Antisemitism Task Force at Indiana University

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Indiana University, Bloomington. Photo: MARELBU / Wikimedia Commons

An Indiana University, Bloomington (IU) Jewish life group has formed an antisemitism task force following the repeated theft and desecration of Jewish religious symbols in university residence halls.

Since the Jewish High Holidays in September, WHTR 13 reported Tuesday, at least a dozen mezuzahs have been stolen from Jewish students, shocking the community.

“It became obvious very quickly that it wasn’t just vandalism, that it was much more than that, that it was targeted and directed specifically at the Jewish students,” IU Hillel Director Rabbi Sue Laikin Silberberg told the outlet. “It’s like somebody just taking what’s so much a part of who you are and ripping it out. It is so important that we say we will not stand up for this.”

Residences on at least three different quads have been targeted in recent months, with at least one student also the subject of verbal harassment.

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In response, IU Hillel recently formed the Indiana University Antisemitism Task Force. The Indiana University Dean of Students, Bias Response Team, and Office of Residential Programs and Services are supporting the initiative, which includes new training programs on the history of Judaism and antisemitism.

IU Hillel also launched the Mezuzah Project, a campaign to give away free ritual prayer scrolls to Jewish and non-Jewish students all over campus.

“We’re offering Jewish students a mezuzah to put on their doors and then non-Jewish students a [red] mezuzah case, that says ‘I stand with my Jewish friends,'” Rabbi Silberberg told WTHR 13. “Someone said for every one mezuzah taken down, we want to put up 50 in its place. And that kind of stuck with me.”

The Mezuzah Project has already given away 150 red support Mezuzahs to non-Jewish students,

Sophomore Kaylee Werner said joining the task force heightened her awareness of antisemitism.

“I was pretty blind to the antisemitism that was going on until I really joined this task force and heard from other students about issues that they’ve been facing on campus,” she said Tuesday. “It’s sort of a thing that where you walk into a room with a mezuzah, you like touch it and kiss it. It’s almost a sense of security and togetherness. That’s my Jewish neighbor. Like, we have each other’s backs. They have a mezuzah. I have a mezuzah.”

Reports of vandalized mezuzahs — encased prayers scrolls that are affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes — have drawn outrage on campus since the High Holidays, when four such incidents were seen within a span of weeks. One student said her dorm room mezuzah was stripped twice in several days.

In a statement to the Indiana Student Daily at the time, IU Spokesperson Chuck Carney said the incidents do not reflect the university’s values.

“IU-Bloomington has received reports of bias incidents involving antisemitism in the residence halls that do not reflect IU’s commitment to equitable and inclusive environment for people from all backgrounds,” he said. “We ask the IU community to join us in shaping a campus where everyone feels welcome, respected and comfortable no matter their race, ethnicity, identity, political or religious beliefs.”

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