The Collegian
Friday, May 27, 2022

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Jewish students grapple with unsolved antisemitic vandalism

<p>Jewish Chaplain Josh Jeffreys attends the "Sacred Pause," an initiative created by the Office of the Chaplaincy.</p>

Jewish Chaplain Josh Jeffreys attends the "Sacred Pause," an initiative created by the Office of the Chaplaincy.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated Josh Jeffryes lead the Equity Summit training session where he assisted Sage Watterson and Becca Levitt.

Jewish students at the University of Richmond are still living with the horrors of antisemitic and white nationalist vandalism on their own campus a month after the hostage crisis fueled by antisemitism in Colleyville, Texas. 

The investigation into the case of antisemitic and white nationalist vandalism on campus last November is now inactive, UR Police Department Maj. Eric Beatty said. 

"We have not closed the case, but all the leads were exhausted and we didn't have anything further to go on," Beatty said. "So unless new information comes up, it will remain inactive."

Josh Jeffreys, Jewish chaplain and director of religious life, was not surprised to hear the case was inactive, he wrote in an email to The Collegian. 

"The vandalism was committed in such a cowardly way as to leave very little evidence for URPD to really act on," Jeffreys said. "It is still a tremendous disappointment since it leaves students without a sense of closure or accountability."

The antisemitic hostage crisis in Texas was not unexpected for many students that he spoke with during the days and weeks following the attack, Jeffreys said.

"For those in the Jewish community, there's an awareness, perhaps a greater awareness I should say, of how attacks on the Jewish community have become more common in recent years," Jeffreys said. "But I don't think the shock or the fear that [antisemitic attacks] elicit goes away."

Senior Sage Watterson, the oversight coordinator for Hillel, an organization for Jewish students to explore their connection to Judaism, was with her friends when she heard the news of the attack in Colleyville. She had to pause to figure out how to process it, she said.

"I just had a moment where I was like, 'Oh my goodness, this is so huge and hurts my heart in such a particular way,'" Watterson said. "I'm going to have to deal with that on my own time and process that perhaps tomorrow."

Despite still grappling with the antisemitic vandalism found on campus last semester, Jeffreys tries to cope by reminding himself that there is no direct threat toward himself or our campus community, he said.

"That's a pretty low bar," Jeffreys said. "But it's something that's providing me some sort of solace at the moment."

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When URPD got word of the vandalism, they immediately reported to the scene, Beatty said.

While URPD responded quickly, Watterson said she had felt disappointed that it took an antisemitic hate crime for Jewish students to be listened to and included in the conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion.

"Jewish students have been saying for years and years that we need to be listened to, and it just hasn't been a priority of the university," Watterson said. "And I know that there are so many people who want to make the university a better, more inclusive place for everyone … it feels like that conversation is happening and then it's like, 'Oh and Jewish students.'"

After the vandalism in fall 2021, UR quickly reached out to support the campus Jewish community, but the student body did not support the Jewish community in the same way, Watterson said. 

"It's so important that students realize what their Jewish peers are going through, and that we need support," Watterson said. "[Student groups making signs] was the first time I had seen the support that I needed … I would love it if I could feel that support without going through the trauma of a hate crime being committed on campus."

Hillel is taking steps to educate the UR community on Judaism and antisemitism, Jeffreys said. He supported an hour-long training session lead by Watterson and Becca Levitt for the Equity Summit and is assisting training sessions at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 28 for anyone in the community to learn about the basics of these topics, he said.

"We have a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Jewish community on campus, and I love it so much," Watterson said. "And my hope is that it will receive the love and support that it needs and deserves from everyone."

Contact copy editor Emily Weiner at emily.weiner@richmond.edu.

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