It was shocking and painful to learn that Yale property had been desecrated by individuals who drew swastikas on Old Campus in chalk.
I applaud the rapid and thoughtful response to this incident issued by Dean Jonathan Holloway and the Yale administration. The horrors of the Holocaust remain very much alive, deeply ingrained into the hearts, minds and souls of humans everywhere. These humans include the children and grandchildren of survivors, many of whom are part of the Yale community as students, faculty, staff and alumni.
As a child, I used to read and hear many stories from survivors, stories that still inspire me on a daily basis.
I remember visiting the Holocaust museum in West Bloomfield, Michigan. I remember listening to an elderly Auschwitz survivor, who described how she shared her tiny daily ration of stale bread with a starving friend who was suffering from a terrible disease. Another told of hiding his young son under hay in a shed, picking berries to keep him alive for more than a year.
These stories don’t just tell of atrocities against humanity; they teach us lessons about the spirit of survival. At their core, they speak of the unique and beautiful human ability to help others, even at the greatest cost. The Holocaust was a terrible darkness that befell humanity, and each story of survival through acts of selfless kindness is a small, yet powerful flame.
The Torah teaches “a drop of light dispels much darkness,” requiring us to kindle flames whenever darkness rears its ugly head. Therefore, I encourage all my friends and colleagues to respond to this unfortunate incident by kindling another flame. Acts of selfless goodness and kindness toward others spelled the ultimate defeat over Nazism and, indeed, hatred and persecution throughout history. In a time of darkness, these acts created light, and preserved the spirit of humanity that we all share.
Monday evening, we were reminded of that darkness, confronted with a display of hate from which most of us are usually sheltered.
The values of religious freedom and protection of human life have become a moral standard in the Western world. We read the news and watch with horror as anti-Semitism and human rights violations unfold. Yet we remain removed from these horrors to some degree.
The graffiti on the sidewalk of Old Campus brought hatred and bigotry not only to our shores but also to an esteemed institution of study that justly prides itself on tolerance and and freedom.
As members of the Yale community, this incident gives us a unique opportunity to pause and carefully consider how we deal with adversity. It is a stark reminder that even our ivory towers are not immune to acts of hate and ignorance. And that realization must propel us to act.
In the early 1970s, the leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America approached the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, with a proposal to encourage every family celebrating Passover to add an empty chair at the Seder table in memory of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. He responded that families should indeed add the chair, but they shouldn’t leave it empty. Rather, the best way to commemorate the victims was to find someone that might need a Seder, and invite them to join.
I believe this can and should inspire our response as a community. The Jewish community at Yale is strong and firm, evidenced by the hundreds of students who went to Old Campus to express their Jewish pride.
The swastikas, as painful as they are, don’t weaken us. On the contrary, they can make us stronger, if we allow this incident to inspire us to increase positive action. Let’s respond by each doing one extra “mitzvah” — a good deed — reminding ourselves and those around us that the swastikas have failed. Rather, humanity, light and goodness have prevailed.
Shua Rosenstein is the rabbi of Chabad at Yale. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org