Two Jewish students had a religiously significant symbol yanked from their dorm room doors over fall break. Some Jewish community leaders are saying the theft of the door ornaments is an act of discrimination.
The symbol that was stolen, a Mezuzah, is typically displayed in the doorway of Jewish homes, providing protection for the household. Beyond that, the symbol is a way of displaying the Jewish faith to the rest of the world.
Jeremy Sharpe, a freshman equine science major, and Ben Tessler, a freshman psychology major, don’t understand why their religious symbols were made a target.
“It really makes no sense,” Tessler said. “They have no value to anyone but a Jew.”
Sharpe was relieved to see his Mezuzah returned outside his door one week after its disappearance.
“If it was thrown in the trash somewhere, that would have been even more offensive,” Sharpe said.
Tessler’s Mezuzah is still missing.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelik of Chabad, CSU’s Jewish Student Alliance, says someone taking the ornament from students’ doors cut him deeply.
“Their right to be Jewish was challenged,” Gorelik said. “It is really hard to believe.”
The Mezuzah contains within it a scroll of the ancient central prayer from the Torah called the Shma, a sentiment Gorelik compares to the value of the crucifix to Christians.
The Chabad Jewish Student Alliance gives Mezuzahs to any students who wish to display one, free of charge.
The Rabbi says this is the first time he’s heard of someone stealing Mezuzahs specifically – which he says disrespects not only the Jewish faith, but also civil rights.
“It is fundamental respect,” Gorelik said. “America is founded on freedom of religion.”
Hedy Berman, director of Hillel, a Jewish advocacy office on campus, says the theft is an act of anti-Semitism.
“It makes me feel like a target,” Tessler said. “Most other people are allowed to display their religious symbols and I can’t even put a symbol on my door post.”
The thefts come at a time of heated debate over the representation of religions during the holiday season. Fort Collins City Council has recently come under scrutiny by the Jewish community for not allowing the displaying of a Menorah, also a significant Jewish symbol, in its holiday decorations.
The Mezuzah, typically displayed year round, is not considered a holiday decoration.
Berman says, however, that the recent controversy over displaying religious holiday symbols and the Mezuzah theft are not coincidental.
“I feel there is more of a feeling of marginalization this time of year,” Berman said. “People are not being sensitive of our differences.”
Staff writer Emily Polak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org