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Harvard Hillel and Harvard Chabad will implement increased safety measures following a spate of anti-Semitic incidents across the nation, according to the group’s leaders.
Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi, Jewish chaplain and director at Harvard Chabad, wrote in an email to The Crimson that Harvard Chabad has been working with police and private experts to ensure students’ safety in Chabad House and take the recent incidents “very seriously.”
“Harvard Chabad is a home away from home and a center for Jewish Life and Learning for thousands of students at Harvard,” Zarchi wrote. “The safety and well-being of our students, wherever they may be, is of paramount importance to us.”
Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg, Harvard Hillel’s executive director, wrote in an email to Hillel affiliates last Tuesday that Hillel is also working “closely” and “actively” with Harvard University Police Department on increased safety measures for its building.
“I can say that we have taken a number of concrete steps, some quite visible, some less conspicuous, in addition to improvements already made over the past several years, to make sure that our Jewish center in the heart of this land’s most famous university is as safe and secure as it is welcoming,” he wrote.
HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano declined to comment on whether his department has been working on increasing security at Hillel and Chabad, citing the department’s policy “not to comment on staffing, equipment, operations, and security measures” in an email.
The measures come amid a resurgence of anti-Semitic violence in the U.S. In October 2018, an assailant opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue killing at least 11 congregants and wounding six, marking the deadliest-ever attack on American Jews.
More recently, a man stabbed and wounded five people during Hanukkah festivities at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, N.Y. on Dec. 28. On Sunday, thousands of people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in a show of solidarity with the Jewish community after the Monsey stabbing.
Cambridge has also seen at least one instance of potentially anti-Jewish activity in recent years. In December 2018, police conducted an investigation of a “possible hate crime” after witnesses said a man intentionally toppled over a large menorah placed on Cambridge Common by student group Harvard Chabad.
Hillel President Rebecca S. Araten ’22, an inactive Crimson staff writer, said the security measures are meant to protect Jewish students’ ability to practice their Judaism “openly” and “confidently” at Harvard in light of the recent attacks.
"We hope that our new security measures will in no way make Hillel feel intimidating or scary, because Hillel is really just a place that makes it easier for students to become Jewish leaders and live according to their values,” she said.
Asked about both the attacks and the new security measures, several Jewish students said they believe religious spaces like Chabad and Hillel are increasingly vital.
Caroline A. Silver ’21, who volunteers with Chabad, said she thinks of Chabad as an “extension” of campus.
“Volunteering with Chabad is my favorite part of Jewish life at Harvard,” Silver said. “Chabad really is a wonderful space.”
Eleanor Y. Grueskin ’21 said she has appreciated how “excited” Hillel is to welcome different students from different backgrounds.
“It's been a really inclusive space both for myself as a Reform Jew and for a lot of my friends that come from different denominations and also just different religions generally,” she said.
Ariel G. Silverman ’22 said she believes the rise in acts of anti-Semitism with attacks is symptomatic of growing animosity toward many religious groups. A day after the stabbing in Monsey, a gunman fatally shot two people at a church in Texas.
“I think expressing solidarity and working together with other groups to end that violence is the best way, rather than cornering ourselves off and thinking of ourselves as a unique group with a unique experience,” Silverman said.
—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.
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