Editor’s Note: This story contains descriptions of hateful incidents including physical assaults and verbal harassment.
Maya Goldenberg was at a late-night Shabbat hangout when she first learned of the burned mezuzah.
She’d stuck around after services at Chabad, a Jewish organization at IU, and was chatting with friends when Rabbi Levi Cunin brought up the incident.
It had happened Sept. 29, just a few days earlier. An IU student tore down a mezuzah — a scroll often hung on doorways in Jewish homes to remind residents of their covenants with God — off an apartment door and partially burned it.
Maya still remembers the wave of shock that ran through the room. As a Jewish woman, she’s no stranger to antisemitism. But even when it’s not targeting her, that doesn’t make it easier — especially when it happens in a place she calls home.
Antisemitism is not a rare occurrence on campus or elsewhere. According to the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International, one in three Jewish students experienced antisemitism on U.S. college campuses during the 2020-21 school year.
The burned mezuzah was not the first, nor will it be the last antisemitic incident at IU. Some Jewish students think the university handles these situations adequately, and some say it doesn’t do enough. Others have mixed feelings. Regardless, Jewish students must find ways to keep going despite everyday instances of antisemitism, whether it be offhand comments or bigger incidents — like the burned mezuzah.
To cope, they come together.
They have Shabbat dinners and do Torah study and attend temple.
They try to educate others.
They hang mezuzahs on their doors.
They practice their faith in private and in public, even when it could be risky.
Above all, they remain proud.
Every morning when Maya wakes up, she thanks God for giving her another day. She washes her hands three times with a special hand-washing cup with two handles, a ritual known as netilat yadayim in Jewish law. After brushing her teeth and getting dressed, she does a few morning blessings and prays to set the tone for her day.
Maya, a junior at IU, wears a Star of David necklace around her neck. Raised by Russian parents who left the Soviet Union due to antisemitism, Maya and her sister were raised to be unflinchingly proud of their Jewish identities.
Growing up, her family was heavily involved in Jewish culture. She attended Hebrew school, went to a Russian Jewish heritage synagogue and took a trip to Israel as her bat mitzvah gift. But aside from the formal schooling and traditions, the spiritual side of Judaism and the teachings of the Torah weren’t a major part of her childhood.
That changed in high school when she participated in a Jewish Russian women’s research internship that sparked an interest to learn more about her faith.
Finding a strong Jewish community became a priority in her college search. Soon, Maya had her heart set on attending IU. She’d heard good things about the Kelley School of Business and felt an immediate connection with Hillel when she visited campus. She could tell the big building had frequent student traffic, and its presence alone was reassuring of a strong Jewish community. “This is going to be home for me,” she thought.
Hillel, IU’s official Jewish culture center, estimates 12% of IU students are Jewish. Hillel, along with Chabad — a Jewish outreach organization with chapters across the country that Maya has attended since childhood — offer community, celebration and support to Jewish students.
Maya didn’t expect the frequent, egregious antisemitism at IU when she came to campus her freshman year. But the incident with the mezuzah was closer than any other she’d experienced.
It happened at The Avenue, an apartment complex where Maya formerly lived. She knew Larena Guberman and Mya Levy, the residents whose mezuzah was vandalized.
Now she knows antisemitism is not uncommon here. Although every incident is still upsetting, she said, it’s never truly surprising.
College is supposed to be a place where everyone can thrive no matter their religion or race or sexuality. In a majority-red state, Bloomington is hailed as a safe haven. But what happens when it’s not?
In the past years, onslaught of antisemitic acts has left Bloomington’s Jewish community reeling. The repeated threatening incidents can seem too many to count. In December 2021 alone, six different graffiti swastikas were found around the city.
Four mezuzahs were ripped down from the doorways of residence halls including McNutt Quad and Foster Quad close to the time of Rosh Hashanah in September 2021. These contributed to at least twelve reported mezuzah thefts by November 2021.
The sheer amount of stolen mezuzahs last year prompted members of Hillel to create an Antisemitism Task Force specifically meant to combat antisemitic incidents on campus and in the community.
This June, Sarah Dye was accused of using Nazi imagery and antisemitic language in the logo and communications of her business Above Time Coffee Roasters. This is not Dye’s first accusation; she posted in an online neo-Nazi chatroom in 2019, and her ties to white supremacist groups was the catalyst for the 2019 Bloomington Community Farmer’s Market shutdown.
While antisemitic acts have spiked recently, they aren’t new to Bloomington. In 2010, rocks were thrown through the windows of Chabad and Hillel. In 2019, the IU chapter of Pi Kappa Phi was suspended after video footage emerged of about 10 members physically assaulting a few members of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a traditionally Jewish fraternity.
In 2018, an anonymous GreekRank user with the screen name “OKAYY” claimed IU’s campus was being “taken over” by Jewish students and made racist comments about their appearances and behavior.
Eight months before the burned mezuzah, more anonymous users published antisemitic comments on GreekRank. The antisemitic comments were posted under the screen name “The truth,” and directed toward traditionally Jewish fraternities Zeta Beta Tau, Sigma Alpha Mu and Alpha Epsilon Pi. They accused Jewish students of taking advantage of women and advised IU women to stay with “the people you belong with.”
Content warning: Sensitive content
Excerpt from anonymous GreekRank post
As a community we need to come together and be aware of everything that these kids are about. Money, greed, and sexually assaulting women. Their families are in positions of power therefore they get away with everything and are not scared. And then Ofc our women go to them to take their alcohol and that’s when the Jews capitalize on their victims. IU women you need to stay where you belong, with the people you belong with, for your own safety.
The posts, which included more graphic and explicit commentary, were deleted from GreekRank at the university’s request, but screenshots remain on Twitter.
Hillel, Hoosiers for Israel and Chabad condemned the comments on social media. IU Provost Rahul Shrivastav said in a press release that the posts were deeply upsetting and disappointing, and there is no place for hate or violence in the IU community. Shrivastav added that a police investigation was underway. University officials met with Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Sue Silberberg, the IU Panhellenic Association and the IU Interfraternity Council to address the comments.
Shannon Bunger, IU Police Department Deputy Chief, told the IDS in an email that as of Dec. 9, there are no suspects in either of the GreekRank incidents or in any of the other antisemitic incidents IUPD has investigated.
Shortly after the comments were posted, members of IU’s Jewish community went to Jewish Greek houses to place mezuzahs on the doors in support.
Günther Jikeli is the associate director of IU’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism. The institute has published multiple reports, books and studies on antisemitism, including a June 2022 report about social media. The study found that, in 2019, 6.9% of conversations about Jewish people on Twitter were antisemitic — 849,253 tweets total. In 2020, that rose to 10.7%.
While antisemitic tweets were already rising, they reached new heights after Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in the U.S. in 2021, with a total of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism reported. This is the highest number of incidents on record since the ADL began tracking in 1979. And these only encompass what’s reported.
Rapper Kanye “Ye” West has repeatedly attacked the Jewish community with antisemitic remarks since earlier this year, which have led him to be dropped from partnerships with multiple companies and banned from Twitter. However, one act of antisemitism often inspires more. Weeks later, photos were taken of demonstrators on a Los Angeles freeway with their arms raised in a Nazi salute, standing behind banners that read “Honk if you know” and “Kanye is right about the Jews.”
Not all antisemitism is so direct. A lot of it happens during everyday life, scattered instances that sting at best and serve as reminders of trauma at worst.
Sitting in the Indiana Memorial Union one day freshman year, Maya overheard a group of girls say their favorite conspiracy theory was that Jewish people made up the Holocaust. Stunned, she covered her Hebrew laptop sticker with her hand.
While Maya was walking down Kirkwood Avenue with a fellow Jewish friend last year, two women sitting in a car at a stoplight yelled antisemitic comments out the window. “Is this how some people see me?” Maya thought.
On Dec. 4, 2021, news spread of a swastika painted on a building near Sixth and Lincoln. It was the first of six identified in the following three weeks, and one of two found in the same day.
It was also the sixth day of Hanukkah.
Maya was scrolling through Instagram when she saw another Jewish student had posted about the swastika. Even behind a screen, Maya instantly felt anxious.
The next day, she happened to walk past the wall where the swastika had been painted. She got shaky; her adrenaline kicked in.
“My body just shut down as I was walking past,” Maya said. “It was so freaky.”
Maya thought about Chabad's reaction, the positivity they’d practiced and the measures they took to confront the incident and begin the healing process. The swastika had quickly been covered, painted over the same evening by Rabbi Levi Cunin and students at Chabad, the first to notice the symbol. Leaders from Chabad also held a service in front of the building, where they lit a menorah and sang in honor of Hanukkah.
Despite the square of bright white paint that stood out against the grayish wall, Maya still felt scared. She still knew what lay under it.
What that symbol means is, ‘We want you dead.’ That’s what I think when I see that,” she said. “It’s not safe, it’s not welcoming, and that was in the Bloomington community.”
To stay safe, Maya carries pepper spray and tries not to walk alone at night. Occasionally, if she feels particularly afraid, she hides her Star of David necklace underneath her shirt.
Jeremy Chung-Ho Park Patzelt, the student responsible for ripping down the mezuzah in September, said he didn’t know the people in the apartment were Jewish or that the mezuzah was a Jewish symbol. He said he vandalized it because of ignorance and poor judgment.
While walking in The Avenue with a few other people on Sept. 29, he said he saw what he assumed to be a note encased in a plastic tube. Curious, he tore it down to take a look.
After opening the mezuzah’s case and realizing the contents were religious, he said he left the mezuzah at the doorstep in an effort to return it.
The mezuzah was found partially burned. In an interview with the Indiana Daily Student, Patzelt did not admit to burning it, instead saying he “tampered” with the mezuzah to open it.
He said he didn’t realize at the time the offensive message leaving it at the doorstep could send. He apologized to the Jewish community in the IDS interview.
Patzelt was charged with two counts of criminal mischief in October. His pretrial hearing was scheduled for Jan. 6, 2023, but was canceled due to an “agreement from parties,” court records show.
Almost a month later, Patzelt said he spoke with residents Larena Guberman and Mya Levy, who he claimed were understanding of the situation. Guberman and Levy did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the IDS by the time of publication.
When asked to comment on Patzelt’s apology, Maya said she doesn’t buy it.
“It literally has Hebrew on it,” she said. “How do you look at that and just think it’s decoration?”
The people behind the GreekRank comments and the swastika on Sixth and Lincoln remain unknown. It’s unclear whether any of these incidents were connected, but they’re all indicative of a larger anti-Jewish sentiment, Maya said. And for her, each one feels the same: like a slap in the face.
“Every time I feel maybe safe or comfortable or I’m just going about my day not worrying about being Jewish, it’s a reminder, like, ‘You’ve got to be careful,’” she said.
A few days after the mezuzah burning incident, members of the Antisemitism Task Force met at Hillel. The smell of paint wafted through the dining room, where the group painted wooden mezuzah cases for their ongoing Mezuzah Project, which offers free mezuzah cases for non-Jewish allies to hang on their doors in solidarity.
They chose to paint them red, task force co-chair Kaylee Werner said, because it stands out. If antisemitism is loud, defiance must be, too.
When Jewish students are threatened, other Jewish people are often the only ones to speak up.
“It’s gotten to the point where if it’s not going to be anybody else, it has to be us,” task force co-chair Jared Cohen said.
Maya believes most people don’t take antisemitism seriously enough. Overall, she thinks people often boil Judaism down to just a religion, something people can choose whether or not to participate in. But in reality, it’s an ethnicity, a culture and a family.
“Because people misunderstand who we are, they misunderstand the severity of antisemitism,” she said.
Rabbi Sue Laikin Silberberg is the executive director at Hillel. As a fixture of IU’s Jewish community, a major part of her job is supporting Jewish students in their day-to-day lives.
Silberberg thinks education is crucial to combat antisemitism. People may know about Judaism generally, she said, but they rarely know specifics, nor do they understand how much antisemitism affects others.
It can be difficult to make long-lasting change. Each new cohort of IU freshmen brings the risk of more antisemitism.
In her 32 years at IU, 2022 has been the worst Silberberg has seen in terms of antisemitism. She attributes the uptick in incidents in part to the political climate and the presidency of Donald Trump, who has long perpetuated anti-Jewish tropes. Although many people have held these viewpoints, she said, they are now more likely to speak out.
When students inform her of an incident, she helps them with things like contacting police, working with residence halls or just listening.
Often, she senses fear, hurt, anger and confusion. Silberberg tries to encourage them; she believes there are more good people who want to be Jewish allies than those who don’t. But she has felt scared and discouraged before, too. She tries to focus on the progress that’s been made, like seeing politicians who have pushed antisemitic rhetoric be defeated and mobilizing the community to support those affected by antisemitism.
It’s hard to be Jewish off by yourself in a corner,” she said. “Because community is so much a part of who we are as Jews.”
But she knows antisemitism persists, even when people speak up about it. She said it’s not enough to simply remember things like the Holocaust. What’s most important, especially now, is action.
“We have to use that memory of what happened to inspire us to continue to fight against it,” she said.
She just hopes people will learn from the past.
Antisemitism follows Maya everywhere.
Even back to her hometown in Illinois, where she felt relatively safe growing up in what she called a “Jewish bubble.” She's since realized the rest of the world isn't always so safe.
This past May, she experienced one of the most jarring instances of antisemitism at a library in Chicago where she went to do homework one day.
In the study room next to her, two boys were talking, and she heard one of them mention Hitler. Taken aback, Maya stepped close enough to the room to peek at the boys. One of the teens opened the door of the study room.
“Kill the Jews!” he yelled. “Hitler! Hitler! Hitler!”
Maya stood there in shock. “What just happened?” she thought.
She doesn’t know for sure that the words were directed toward her, but she thinks they were. She’d worn her Star of David necklace that day, and she also has a Jewish sticker on her laptop.
While the words hurt, Maya said the worst part of the situation was what happened after. Sobbing, she told a librarian about the incident. She hoped the librarian would talk to the teens and potentially educate them, but they just asked them to leave.
Maya wishes she knew where those kids ended up. She hopes they’ll be educated eventually about why their words were wrong.
Education is one of the most impactful ways to combat antisemitism, Maya said. Sometimes, she's the first Jewish person someone has met. That realization has made her more aware of how she presents herself.
“You’re representative of all your people at all times, which is a lot of pressure,” she said. “You want to try to make those interactions positive but also know that, if someone has hate in their heart, there’s nothing I can do to, in the moment, maybe persuade them that we’re normal people.”
Maya called her mother after the library incident to tell her what happened. She thought of the parallels between what she’d faced and what her mother went through in Russia — like being harassed for being Jewish in the Soviet Union.
“She came to this country so that her kids wouldn’t have to experience things like that,” Maya said. “I just felt her heart breaking.”
Maya said she and her family have had conversations about leaving the country should antisemitism become too extreme. They’re not the only ones. Many Jewish people across the country have been rethinking how to stay safe in a country where hate against them only seems to increase, in an effort to outrun a beast as old as Judaism itself.
“We definitely know that if shit hits the fan, we’re not staying,” she said.
Her parents know their limit. Maya said, if policy changes were introduced within the government that oppressed Jewish people, moving to Israel — a place she’s visited twice before and where some of her family lives — is an option she’s okay with.
“It definitely feels special there as a Jew,” she said. “This is your ancestral homeland. This is where you belong. This place will always come to save you if your countries kick you out again.”
Maya said that a few times, antisemitic incidents have happened during Jewish holidays or observances such as Shabbos, when many Jewish people don't use technology for a certain amount of time. This can sometimes leave them in the dark for a while after incidents occur. "Over holidays, you have to be extra aware, I guess, as a Jew," Maya said. "It's a time to celebrate, but after, you can maybe expect that you'll hear some bad news."
Hillel President Zeevie Drizin said she wishes there was more attention given to the issues Jewish people face even when an antisemitic event hasn't occurred. "I think overall our generation and with social media and how our brains are kind of trained, something happens and we get very passionate about it for the 30 seconds of fame it has and then people kind of move past it and forget because then there comes another 30 seconds of something else," she said. "But overall I'd rather have some sort of initial spike and awareness then none."
Senior Sonia Nussbaum takes a selfie with every swastika she sees while she's out in Bloomington. It's a way of finding humor in a normally dark scenario and to reclaim her power as a Jewish person. "Yes, people know the power and what that stands for, 100%. But what's even more the problem is that so many people don't."
Maya’s friend Kim Gabriel actually did leave campus to escape antisemitism.
Like Maya, Kim wanted to be part of a Jewish community on campus. Shortly after starting freshman year in 2021, she checked out Hillel and Chabad to be with her peers and practice Jewish traditions.
Kim is Black and Jewish. With only one other Black student and one other Jewish student on her dorm floor at Eigenmann Hall, she felt out of place. What started as an attempt to make friends turned into a torrent of racism and antisemitism.
She remembers white floormates shouting the n-word through Black students’ doors. Taping pennies to the doors of Jewish floormates. Saying “Heil Hitler.”One person scattered ripped-up pamphlets from Hillel around the bathroom.
Scared of the situation continuing but also of retaliation, Kim tried to educate her floormates rather than fire back immediately.
She told Hillel's student life coordinator about the situation, and Rabbi Silberberg led a bystander intervention meeting for the dorm floor alongside coordinators from Eigenmann and Cedric Harris, leader of IU’s Bias Response Team.
Kim said the people responsible for the majority of the issues didn’t take the meeting seriously. Silberberg said it seemed like the students were mocking the presentation. They laughed and looked at their phones instead of paying attention and learning. Kim said she later found out they were sending texts about Hitler and Nazis in a group chat for the men on the floor. The texts included photos of people from the floor doing Nazi salutes.
Kim realized the education wasn’t as effective as she’d hoped. Since she had screenshots as proof, she reported the situation to the Bias Response Team. Kim said if IU determined a student had sent the messages, “liked” the messages or were in the photos, they were kicked off their floor and moved to different residence halls. She said the Bias Response Team interviewed each of the students in the group chat to sort out who did what.
An IU representative declined to comment on this situation, citing FERPA.
Around February of this year, Kim met with the Bias Response Team, who told her some of the students had been placed on academic probation.
Some of her friends at the time even got angry at her for reporting. “You were wrong to report,” Kim remembers them saying. “They didn’t mean it.” “If you were there after the meeting, you would’ve seen that they were sorry.”
This resulted in even more text exchanges, including a physical threat. She didn’t report further issues out of fear for her safety.
Kim said after they were given notice to leave the floor, the floormates who’d harassed her created petitions to convince IU to let them move back to Eigenmann if everyone else agreed. Kim said IU told her floormates not to engage with her, but some of them — including people she thought were her friends — asked her to sign the petitions. Kim’s emotions were running high and she felt pressured to sign the petition, so she did. Looking back, she said, putting her name down is one of her biggest regrets.
The IDS could not confirm whether the petitions had any effect on the situation. Kim said she later heard through friends that some of the people eventually ended up coming back to the original floor at Eigenmann.
When the university moved her floormates, Kim was given temporary housing in Ashton Residence Center for the remainder of the fall semester, to allow her space from the incident and from those who'd harassed her. For the spring semester, she was given a new housing assignment in Wright. Kim said she had to start over with her social life. She took comfort in her meetings with Silberberg for coffee and her antisemitism research class, which allowed her to spread awareness.
But coping with what happened was difficult while also worrying about regular college things like choosing a major and doing homework. Kim eventually decided to leave Bloomington and take classes online at home for her sophomore year.
Space away from campus has given her time to reflect. She has returned to campus a few times since, and considered each time how she felt about potentially returning. The experience still haunts her. Whenever she sees people who resemble those who harassed her, she has flashbacks. She only feels comfortable in Black and Jewish spaces at IU, spaces that can be hard to find.
She’s considering returning to campus next fall for her junior year. If she does, she hopes to live with her best friends who respect her identity instead of in a dorm with people she doesn’t know. She also wants to invest more time into Chabad and Hillel, where she knows she’ll be safe.
In April, IU President Pamela Whitten released a statement addressing IU’s issues with antisemitism.
Written by Whitten
Overall, Maya said she thinks the administration does what it can to support Jewish students. She said she has felt supported by various faculty members and appreciates acts of solidarity like when exam dates are moved for Jewish holidays or when Whitten attended Shabbat dinner at Hillel. Maya and other student leaders attended a reception at Whitten's home last year, where they discussed ways to combat antisemitism and shared their stories, and that’s where Maya met Kim.
But Maya wants IU to take more tangible action.
“Actions speak louder than words in any case, especially cases of hate crimes or bias or racism,” she said. “Any statement released is very nice to hear, but where's the follow-through?”
A good place to start, she said, would be more transparency. She wishes IU released more information about processes of holding students accountable. She also wants more transparency about IU’s attempts to uncover anonymous culprits, she said.
“I understand why they wouldn’t discuss everything that they’re doing, but I feel like it would help if they did,” she said.
Maya didn’t report most of the incidents to IU’s Bias Response Team, where students can go to report and discuss incidents of bias, because she didn’t have evidence and doubted they could address it. However, she did report the two women discussing anti-Jewish conspiracy theories in the IMU.
Cedric Harris is IU’s assistant dean for student support and bias education. He leads the Bias Response Team.
Harris strives to stay victim-focused in his work. But punishing those who commit acts of bias isn’t a cut-and-dry process. While the Bias Response Team has the ability to discuss incidents and try to educate the perpetrators, they often must pass on more extreme incidents to IU’s Office of Student Conduct or the police department. If the person accused is anonymous — like in the GreekRank incident — or otherwise unidentifiable, Harris said the Bias Response Team is limited in its ability to confront or punish them.
Freedom of speech is also a factor, Harris said. While hate speech can cause mental anguish, it’s difficult to expel or punish students based on only their speech.
On the cold, rainy evening of Dec. 9, Maya and more than 500 other students and leaders gathered in Dunn Meadow for Mega Shabbat, the largest celebration of Shabbat in IU history.
Shielded from the rain under large tents, they ate, sang, prayed, lit candles and socialized. Rabbi Levi Cunin and Whitten gave remarks about the prevalence of antisemitism and the endurance of the Jewish community. Hundreds of voices rang out as Cunin led the group in a joyful shout: “I love being Jewish!”
Maya has learned to cope by finding solace in her community. Every Saturday morning, she prays and studies the Torah with Cunin at Chabad. She has been vice president at Hillel as well as president of Hillel's Business Leader Initiative. She dresses more modestly than she used to, which is a personal choice that helps her feel more connected to God. Her journey with faith is heading toward where she’s always wanted it to be.
“I think about myself differently. I’m more confident. I think before I speak a little more,” Maya said. “I’m just more intentional with everything I do and the details.”
Maya knows, even when it feels like others don’t care, she has friends she can lean on who have heard the same remarks, had the same experiences and felt the same sadness and anxiety and anger she has.
As antisemitism rages across both Bloomington and the country, Maya has much to consider: How to practice her faith safely in Bloomington. How to reckon with the effects of antisemitism.
Right now, her mezuzah rests safely in the doorway of her apartment. While she initially was unsure whether she’d put up her mezuzah on the doorway of her home next year, the rise in antisemitism has given her a new perspective.
“No matter what happens — God forbid someone does something to it — that's where it belongs,” she said. “It will serve its purpose by being there. If they tear it down, I'll put two up.”
Maya is determined not to let antisemitism stop her from living her life on her own terms. She wishes people would take it more seriously. But at the end of the day, she said the hatred only strengthens her relationship with her community, with Judaism and with God.
Maya thinks about what her community has survived in the past. Just as hate endures, so must faith.
We outlived the Babylonians.
We outlived the Nazis.
We outlived everyone, and we will continue to,
and we do that through pride.’
— Maya Goldenberg
- To report a hate crime in Bloomington or on IU’s campus, visit the following websites:
- IUPD is asking residents with any information about the on-campus incident to contact the department at 812-855-4111. BPD can be contacted at 812-339-4477.
- The IDS is committed to tracking incidents of hate across IU’s campus and the City of Bloomington. If a hate symbol is found, it can be reported through sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with its location and a photo, if possible.
- Chabad at IU
- Hillel at IU
- Counseling and Psychological Services at IU
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