While outwardly displaying Judaism has become polarized on many college campuses, plenty of Jewish students still choose to hang a mezuzah on their doorpost. Serving two functions, the mezuzah reminds Jews of their covenant with God while signaling to others the dwelling it is affixed to is Jewish. The mezuzah has become a way for Jewish students to display their identity on campus grounds.
Unfortunately, at Tufts University, those who affix the mezuzah on their door have become a target for antisemitic acts of vandalization. On September 8, a Tufts student reported they were woken up in the middle of the night by noise outside their room. The student “heard one of them rip the mezuzah off the doorpost and the rest of the group laughed, I was too afraid to leave my room until well into the morning.” When the student left their room the next morning, the mezuzah was gone. The incident occurred on Shabbat, two days before the start of Rosh HaShana.
President of Tufts, Anthony Monaco, responded to the incident with an email addressing the incident as coming “amidst a documented rise in antisemitism across the nation, within higher education, and at our university.” The letter went on to recognize that the removal of a mezuzah is antisemitic. The Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) launched an investigation immediately. However, the person(s) responsible have yet to be identified.
Despite Tufts’ best efforts to condemn the situation, another mezuzah was defaced less than two weeks later. On September 17, the day after Yom Kippur, another student woke up to find their mezuzah missing from the doorpost. It is unclear whether the same perpetrators defaced both mezuzahs, which were in different residence halls. What is clear is, because both defacings took place on Shabbat, the original incident was not isolated and is part of the larger problem of students feeling comfortable removing religious symbols—specifically Jewish property—at Tufts.
This is not the first time an act of antisemitic vandalization has occurred in a Tufts residence. In September 2019, a swastika was drawn on a Jewish student’s door. The Jewish community at Tufts frequently faces antisemitic acts; Jewish on Campus reported 46 incidents at Tufts from July 2020 through September 2021.
The university recently launched an unnamed initiative for faculty and staff to understand how antisemitism manifests at Tufts. The initiative conducted a survey of Jewish and non-Jewish students, with the questions for Jewish students including certain instances of antisemitism they may have faced and whether they felt comfortable discussing the State of Israel.
While this is a good first step, the administration must take more serious action before the campus becomes more unsafe for Jewish students. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) specifically addresses how antisemitism could be a physical manifestation directed at Jewish individuals’ property. Thus, the defacing of a mezuzah is clearly defined as an antisemitic act. If IHRA were adopted and enforced at Tufts, the community at large would have more knowledge in what constitutes an antisemitic act, thus providing more protection for Jewish students. IHRA further acknowledges that criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of the attacks are selected because they are — or are perceived to be — Jewish. Jewish on Campus urges the Tufts administration to take further action to protect their Jewish community.