The Tufts community grappled with hatred on campus in an open forum at the Interfaith Center yesterday, the latest in a series of university responses to last week’s antisemitic incident at the Granoff Family Hillel Center.
On Tuesday morning, Rabbi Naftali Brawer, Neubauer executive director of Tufts Hillel, discovered over two dozen posters plastered on the Hillel Center. The posters included images of militarized pigs.
The Office of the Provost, which hosted the event yesterday, billed it in its Tuesday announcement email as an opportunity for community members to have facilitated conversation in a safe, supportive space. Administrator and staff attendance outnumbered that of the students.
Provost and Senior Vice President ad interim Deborah Kochevar said that the event was necessary to ensure that all felt welcome at Tufts.
“Clearly we’re at a spot in time where that is not the case,” she said.
Kochevar then invited Kris Manjapra, director of the Department of Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora, to lead an opening meditation and reflection. Manjapra read a quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a civil rights activist and colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr., on the insidiousness of racism and how discrimination affects different communities.
“[Heschel] invites us to think about how different forms of discrimination and radicalization such as antisemitism, on the one hand, antiblackness on the other, are different, and yet also part of an interwoven system of injustice and oppression,” Manjapra said. “He asks us to stretch our minds, and our hearts open to think and feel in terms of solidarity.”
Manjapra read the quote a second time, encouraging participants to notice where the words resonated within them.
“Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal and evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking,” he read. “How many disasters do we have to go through in order to realize that all of humanity has a stake in the liberty of one person? Whenever one person is offended, we are all hurt. What begins as inequality, some inevitably ends as inequality of all.”
After Manjapra, Chief Diversity Officer Rob Mack began a time for open conversation with remarks on past incidents of racism and discrimination at Tufts.
“Incidents that are taking place at Tufts … are not acceptable, and it is important for us to come together as a community to think about our role and responsibilities and how we support each other but also continue the work of educating our community,” he said.
He said that while it may be difficult to have these discussions while members of the community are hurting, the community has a responsibility to acknowledge what happened.
Mack then allowed time for attendees of the event to speak. One student began the discussion by asking about what specific aspect of the posters was offensive.
Brawer pointed to the deliberate, targeted placement of the posters on the Hillel center.
“By equating us, and it was us because it was the only building that we were aware of that had these posters and some of them facing were inward — they were for us to read as a Jewish center — equating us with pigs on the most basic level was really offensive,” Brawer said.
Brawer specified that he was speaking on his own behalf, rather than for the Jewish community at Tufts.
At least one of the posters on the Hillel Center contained an explicitly anti-Israel message, which read, “DESTROY ISRAELI APARTHEID FORCES AND AMERIKKKAN [sic] PIGS WHICH FUND IT. FREE PALESTINE.”
Addressing the Israel-Palestine conflict, Brawer said Zionism and Israel are connected to Jewish identity.
“It’s our home. And that doesn’t mean that when we build a home, our neighbors aren’t affected,” he said. “But it’s the undermining of our homeland, saying, ‘your homeland is a racist enterprise, your homeland is guilty of apartheid,’ that really crosses a line.”
Another student said that the posters were especially alarming given the context of an increase of hate crimes nationally.
“The most scary part is there’s stuff happening on this campus that targets black people, targets people who are not white, and to see this coming to the Jewish community obviously hits home for me as a Jew,” they said.
After a brief discussion period, the conversation turned to the different ways in which antisemitism manifests, and how to best engage with it. Rabbi Jordan Braunig, director of Tufts Hillel’s Initiative for Innovative Community Building, spoke about the impression the posters left on him.
“What feels violating is something happening overnight in a sacred space … [It] triggered a sense of fear and vulnerability for me,” Braunig said. “Antisemitism is weird and it’s insidious and it makes you question whether it’s real or not.”
One student disagreed with Braunig’s categorization of Hillel as a sacred space, and the student called for a conversation about the response to antisemitism in Jewish communities, mentioning increased police presence outside places of worship and how this could threaten worshippers, especially people of color.
Brawer said it should not be the responsibility of the Tufts’ Jewish community to figure out what message the vandal was trying to send.
“I think the onus is on the person who’s trying to communicate a message to communicate that message in a way that is civil, or at least in a way that it can be heard,” Brawer said. “In other words, if somebody smears feces on my window because they’re upset with something I said, that’s a violent act and it needs to be called out as such, and it’s not my responsibility to try to figure out what the vandal was trying to tell me.”
Accompanied by guitar, first-year Micah Kraus led event attendees in a song with verses in Hebrew and English. He translated the Hebrew to: “A world shall be built from love/righteousness.”
Freddie Birnbaum, student president of Tufts Hillel, closed the meeting by encouraging students to look to their peers for support.
“I know it’s the core of systems of oppression and antisemitism and hatred to isolate the victims, to make people feel like they aren’t human, like they are alone in the world, in their communities,” Birnbaum, a junior, said. “And so I want to say and commit for myself, and hopefully you can all join me in committing, that when we see acts like this, like any form of hatred that’s targeted, we reach out to each other.”