February 18, 2020

CSUN Holds Menorah Lighting In Response to Anti-Semitic Graffiti

Photo courtesy of Hillel 818.

The Jewish community at California State University Northridge held a menorah lighting on Dec. 6 in response to the anti-Semitic graffiti that was found a day earlier.

The graffiti was in several locations of the third floor men’s bathroom in Sierra Hall, and featured a swastika and the words “mass shooting 12/12,” the first day finals start for CSUN students.

In response, the Rohr Chabad House, Hillel 818 and other Jewish groups encouraged community members to come to the Thursday menorah lighting.

“Those that are familiar with the Jewish holidays, this is the theme: they wanted to kill us, we won, let’s eat,” Rabbi Chaim Brook, director of Chabad Jewish Student Center, said to a crowd of around 40 people in front of CSUN’s Oviatt Library. “So now, thank God in our generation we’re able to stand here at California State University Northridge and not only are we not being persecuted, we’re being encouraged and celebrating a holiday, and we’re lucky to have a university and an administration that is so supportive of our community.”

“I want to thank everyone who came out here today because it’s Hanukkah, but also because of the response we’re doing to hate, and we know the best Jewish response is by giving more positive light and lighting another Hanukkah candle tonight.”

David Katz, executive director of Hillel 818, then thanked everyone for coming despite a “hard day and a half.”

“Rabbi Brook and I, and Chabad and Hillel, we’re here for all of you, so if you need anything, please reach out to us,” Katz said. “Additionally… I had lunch with the university administration, with President Harrison, and they’re here for you as well. So everything that’s been going on, it’s being looked into, it’s being investigated at the highest levels.”

After candles were handed to attendees, Rona Kohanteb, president of CSUN’s Chabad student club, told the crowd that it was “empowering” to see community members standing together in the cold to show that they won’t back down from hate.

“I’m so proud to be part of a community that stands up to hateful acts,” Kohanteb said.

Brook proceeded to light the menorah and community members said the Hanukkah prayers together.

Among the attendees was Dr. William Watkins, vice president of student affairs at CSUN.

“This is a time for us to reinforce the fact that we believe in each other and we support each other and we stand against hate and to remind ourselves of that, and to be smart going forward because we’ll be having our eyes open,” Watkins told the Journal, “and quite frankly our police will be very vigilant to ensure that there is no harm done to any member of our campus community.”

Watkins said that while the university takes the threat “seriously,” they don’t currently think it’s necessary to close down the campus. He also said that so far the graffiti that has appeared recently has been confined to Sierra Hall and Jerome Richfield Hall.

“Those are our largest lecture buildings, so the majority of students are taking classes in those buildings,” Watkins said. “It’s also the home of most of the classes for our studies: Jewish Studies, Africana Studies, Chicano Studies, most of those courses are taught in that area, so it’s rife for someone who wants to create fear and upset to go prey in that environment.”

Rebecca Grin, a sophomore environmental health student at CSUN who attended the lighting, told the Journal that the graffiti was “a slap in the face.”

“We hear about it the news – it happens here, it happens there – but it doesn’t happen here until today, until this past 24 hours, and I think we’ve all become much more vigilant, much more aware of our surroundings,” Grin said. “We can’t let our guard down unfortunately, no matter how much we’d like to.”

Katz told the Journal it was “amazing” to see the community come together at the lighting in spite of the graffiti.

“I’m inspired by our ability to stand up and say this is not OK and it does not represent the values of the CSUN community,” Katz said.