Yale Daily News

Nearly a month after the discovery of racist and antisemitic graffiti in Kline Biology Tower, Jewish students reflected on the presence of antisemitism on campus and the resources provided in the aftermath of hate-based incidents. 

Immediately after the graffiti was discovered on Oct. 5, the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life sent an email encouraging Jewish students to seek support from the center and designating a time for students to gather in the center’s temporary location, Slifka North. University President Peter Salovey also released a statement condemning the incident.

But some students have used the weeks since the incident to consider the presence of antisemitism on campus more broadly.

“Although few incidents of KBT’s nature have occurred during my time on campus, I, like many Jews here, have heard the hate concealed by jokes or banter or drunken comments,” Flora Ranis ’24 said. “It exists in side-stories and stereotypes that are not advertised as security threats nor shared with the broader Yale community. It exists in the conversations that keep me up at night, wondering where to draw the line and how to define my hurt.”

Ranis added that she was unsurprised by the graffiti incident, although she emphasized that “we can still mourn the familiar.” 

Julia Sulkowski ’24, however, said that the event came as a surprise to her.

“We present as a very accepting and inclusive community,” Sulkowski said. “Yale has so many resources for different communities, but none of that is perfect because we still face so many of these issues. We can always be growing and always be more inclusive.”

Although Sulkowski has many Jewish family members, she does not practice the religion herself. 

Viktor Kagan ’24 recalled an incident this June in which an online petition from the group Jews4Palestine was defaced with the names of Nazi figures and Holocaust references. 

But Kagan added that he has not personally experienced antisemitism at Yale, and that everyone he has met on campus has been “extremely welcoming” of his Jewish identity.  

“Antisemitism is an ancient phenomenon that is alive and well in 2021,” Slifka Center executive director Uri Cohen wrote in an email to the News. “As a community we’ve had millennia of experience dealing with the tragic effects of this hate. As individuals with human-sized lifespans, each attack hurts like the first. Slifka Center seeks to provide support for those impacted by such hate … and to advocate for the support and care of the Jewish community at Yale alongside the welfare of all Yale students.” 

In an email to Jewish community members the night the graffiti was discovered, Slifka Center leadership expressed gratitude to Yale’s public safety staff for the seriousness with which they handled the incident. 

The email invited students to a community gathering at Slifka North the following morning, as well as to reach out to Slifka Center leadership and friends in the Yale community for support. 

“Our general practice is to do our best to make sure these issues are being handled seriously by the authorities, and to offer support for students and members of the community who are impacted, both within and beyond the Jewish community,” Cohen wrote. 

Cohen added that the Slifka Center is in touch with various branches of the Yale administration on a regular basis, including in the wake of hate-based incidents. 

Kagan said that the Slifka Center “responded well to this situation,” but noted that he is reluctant to turn to the center for support because of its stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

“The center is still an unwelcoming space to me and many other Jewish students who do not have an opinion on, or disagree with the extreme support of the Israeli state and unwavering commitment to the idea that condemning Israel-state actions is equivalent to antisemitism,” Kagan told the News. 

In June, the Slifka Center released a statement rejecting the Yale College Council’s vote to condemn Israeli action in Palestine. 

But the statement still affirmed that all Jewish students were welcome at the Slifka Center, regardless of their stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

“We write these words with full knowledge that some Jewish undergraduates were among those advocating for the YCC’s adoption of this condemnation,” the statement read. “We embrace them — you — as members of our Jewish community, along with your commitments to Judaism and to justice.”

Despite his feelings of alienation from the Slifka Center, Kagan added that the Center responded to the graffiti incident more effectively than University administration did. 

Kagan said that he was not aware of any resources offered to Jewish students by the University in the wake of the incident. 

“I do wish there was more communication following the incident from Yale,” Ranis wrote. “Students were informed of the work being done to determine the individuals responsible for the incident, but little was communicated following the university’s original message.” 

There has been no additional communication to students from the Yale Police Department or the University since Oct. 5. 

Max Heimowitz ’23, who serves as a liaison for the Slifka Center on the Hillel Student Board, told the News in early October that Yale had a “murky” history with its Jewish students. Heimowitz referenced past quota systems, which limited the admission of Jewish students at Yale to 10 percent until the early 1960s. 

“While [Yale] has taken strides over the past many decades, this incident amplifies the need for something more,” Heimowitz said. “I’m grateful that Yale has acknowledged very publicly its negative reaction to this incident, because I think now more than ever we need institutional support for Jewish students — Jewish communities often get overlooked, and despite an internal understanding that antisemitism is still prevalent, the external norm is to brush it aside or discount its presence.” 

The identity of the KBT vandals has not been made public by the Yale Police Department. 

Correction, Oct. 29: This article has been updated with the correct class year for Max Heimowitz.

Lucy Hodgman covers Student Life. She previously covered the Yale College Council for the News. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a sophomore in Grace Hopper majoring in English.