Jewish community respond to antisemitic graffiti near KU Chabad

While antisemitism continues to rise across the country, Jewish communities at the University of Kansas and around Lawrence are combating that hatred with resilience and service.

A student discovered a graffitied swastika on the sidewalk in the area around 19th Street and Naismith Drive on Aug. 31, and the KU Police Department and KU Hillel were notified of the vandalism.

Bailey Nakelsky, the interim executive director of KU Hillel, subsequently notified the Office of Civil Rights & Title IX through their incident reporting form.

“I was able to file the report on behalf of the student, and then that puts the incident in the hands of the civil rights office, and we actually try to stay out of the investigation so that it stays unbiased,” Nakelsky said. “And the civil rights office responded immediately.”

The office interviewed Nakelsky and the student, then coordinated with KU Facilities Services to remove the graffiti.

“That happened so swiftly, like, nobody could even go back and find it because they cleaned it up so quickly, which means a lot to us,” Nakelsky said. “In a place where that might take a long time to clean up, that leaves the Jewish community feeling vulnerable even longer, but the fact that the university acted immediately was a really nice testament to how seriously they took this.”

KUPD Deputy Chief James Druen said that officers were dispatched to the area and were unable to locate the graffiti, assuming that the drawing had been cleaned up prior to their arrival.

This incident comes about one year after flyers spouting antisemitic conspiracy theories were spread around Lawrence residences by an unknown group. Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel of the KU Chabad Center said that the rarity of these events demonstrates the work of the University against antisemitism on campus.

“I believe that the university is doing great work, and the biggest testament to that is the fact that incidents as these are very rare,” Tiechtel said. “Unfortunately, I have colleagues at other campuses across the country where antisemitism is a daily occurrence. We’re very blessed to live in a community and a campus that is very welcoming and embracing.”

Several Jewish organizations on campus and in Lawrence responded to both of these incidents by saying that they are not intimidated by the act and instead hope to spread love in the wake of such hatred.

Adina Thompson, a student involved with the KU Chabad Center, said that the interconnected Jewish community in Lawrence serves students by providing them with spaces to be themselves.

“I think Chabad and Hillel are really good at reaching out to the Jewish community and finding involved students so that they’re already connected,” Thompson said. “And when something like this happens, students know that there’s this community behind them, supporting, and that it’s a safe place to go and be who you are.”

She said that while the incident was unsettling, neither she nor her community will be discouraged by this act.

“This is something that we’re not gonna let intimidate us and scare us. We’re a very strong and proud community, and so we’re gonna keep being who we are; Jewish and proud and strong.”

Emphasizing the place of Jewish organizations in the community, Tiechtel said that KU Chabad has a program that delivers chicken soup to sick students if they text “sick” to their helpline. 

“You don’t have to be Jewish. If a student is not feeling well, they text the word ‘sick’ to our helpline, and we bring them chicken soup,” Tiechtel said. “This week alone, we’ve delivered chicken soup to almost 100 students, and most of them were not Jewish.”

He said that acts of service like these are productive responses to antisemitism since they encourage unity rather than divisiveness.

 “It’s not about the Jewish people. It’s about spreading love, spreading kindness, and spreading goodness. That person that sprayed that swastika was fueled by hate, and we are gonna respond by being fueled with love.”

The Chabad Center encourages those seeking any kind of support to text “Help Me” to 785-264-4477, their 24-hour text line. KU Hillel provides free therapy appointments with a licensed therapist for students in need.

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