It may be the unlikeliest campus in the nation to find a swastika. Certainly two swastikas.
Yet for the second time in two years, anti-Semitic graffiti has appeared at Brandeis University, one of the most prominent U.S. colleges under Jewish auspice.
Brandeis officials reported that “apparently unrelated incidents” of vandalism took place Monday and Tuesday at a dormitory on the Waltham, Mass., campus.
According to a statement from Edward Callahan, director of public safety, and Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for Students and Enrollment, “small swastikas” were found drawn on message boards outside two rooms in the same residence hall.
“Public safety officers responded to calls from the community adviser, and the offensive drawings were removed,” the Brandeis officials stated.
“This is just a tiny, little incident … a freak accident,” Avraham Tsikhanovski, a freshman philosophy/economics major from Lakewood, N.J., told The Jewish Week on Tuesday afternoon. “It wasn’t even on the news.”
Tsikhanovski, who lives in student housing and said he spends many evenings in the dorm where the swastikas were found, said most students were unaware of the vandalism until the administration sent out the text message on Tuesday.
The swastikas and the prospect of anti-Semitism at the school are “not something we feel threatened about or on the lookout for,” he said. “There’s such an accommodating atmosphere” on the campus. “It’s very comfortable to be a Jew here.”
Tsikhanovski, an Orthodox Jew, said he wears a kipa at all times and has encountered no negative remarks.
Rabbi Seth Winberg, executive director of Hillel at Brandeis, said, “We appreciate the [school’s] investigation and swift condemnation of the swastikas. We’re cooperating with the investigation.”
The rabbi declined to say if Hillel will institute or recommend any added security precautions for Yom Kippur, which starts Friday evening or for Sukkot, which begins next Wednesday evening. “We always take safety precautions.”
Does he consider the swastikas a bias crime?
“I consider it an anti-Jewish incident,” Rabbi Winberg said.
The swastikas were not the only example of a possible bias incident at the school this week.
On Tuesday, Flagel and Callahan stated, university staff reported “finding posters around campus targeting pro-Palestinian student groups. The posters were similar to ones occasionally distributed on other campuses by groups that frequently target colleges and universities with such messages. The posters violated Brandeis’ rules for posting notices found in Rights and Responsibilities and were removed.”
In April 2016 a swastika was drawn between late Friday and early Saturday on a house near the campus where the local chapter of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) was hosting a party.
Brandeis University was founded in 1948 at a time when Ivy League universities used quotas to limit acceptance of Jews, making it an important symbol for the American Jewish community. Close to half of its 6,000 students are Jewish.
“These incidents remind us that Brandeis is not immune to the expressions of hate we see around the country and on other campuses,” according to the administration statement. “We take such incidents seriously and these are being investigated; information has been shared with local law enforcement.”