Darren Deutsch woke up on Saturday, Feb. 6 to find blue swastikas and red slurs spray-painted on the doorstep of his home — the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house, a Jewish-affiliated organization.
The sociology sophomore said his “heart dropped to his stomach,” but he and the fraternity launched into action.
“We can’t just stand here and do nothing about this,” Deutsch said. “We need to act on this and turn something very ugly into something good.”
Deutsch drove to Home Depot to buy a power washer to remove the graffiti, and then the fraternity got to work.
“People in this house, brothers of the fraternity, were on their hands and knees scrubbing for hours,” Deutsch said, as paint stuck to the pavement even after using the power washer.
The vandalism of the house was a hate crime, as it was a crime motivated by bias against the fraternity’s religion. Police think the vandalism occurred on Friday night, but without security cameras or witnesses, SLOPD detectives haven’t found the vandal, according to SLOPD Lieutenant John Villanti.
Video by Miki Dubery
The house was vandalized during Shabbat, a religious day of rest from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Cleaning up the graffiti interrupted what was supposed to be a day for rest, community and religious observance.
“A lot of our brothers are really hurt that it could happen on such an important night for us,” fraternity president Noah Matlof said.
Public health sophomore Yael Shabtay said she’s used to hearing about antisemitic hate crimes, but not on her street minutes away from her home.
“It’s almost a wake-up call that this safe little city of ours, this safe little bubble, isn’t as safe as we thought,” Shabtay said. “There is somebody within this community who hates us.”
After enduring antisemitism her whole life without much notice from the surrounding community, she said it was good to see Cal Poly administration, faculty and students condemning the act and offering support.
“We’re kind of used to fighting this fight … but it’s nice to no longer be fighting it alone,” Shabtay said.
More than vandalism: A hate crime
The swastika symbolizes the murder of six million Jewish people during the Holocaust. It means more than a dislike of Jewish people, it says: “I would like to see them harmed,” fraternity president Noah Matlof said.
“It was clearly a direct attack on our organization,” Matlof said. “This is not something that we can let fly under the radar.”
On Yom HaShoah — the Holocaust Remembrance Day — electrical engineering senior Joshua Raikin visited Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp. He went with thousands of people, including survivors of the Holocaust.
There, he saw a room full of thousands of childrens’ shoes and their stolen toys. He saw gas chambers and a large pile of ash.
“If the Nazis won, none of us would be here,” Raikin said. “A swastika symbolizes all of that. When someone spray-paints it so nonchalantly, it says it’s ok.”
Jewish people experience more hate crimes than any other religious group in the United States, as 60.3% of religious hate crimes are anti-Jewish, according to a 2019 FBI report.
Daniel Meisel, the Regional Director of the Santa Barbara Anti-Defamation League, said hate crimes cause more harm to the victim than a standard crime because they’re being targeted for identities they can’t change.
He said hate crimes and incidents should be addressed with three steps. First, an investigation to determine if the act had hateful intent. Then, communal condemnation, which is where the community shows support of the victim and rejects hateful symbols and actions. Lastly, meaningful engagement in which the perpetrator is punished and the community rallies to create a more inclusive society.
Antisemitic incidents increased by 66.3% from 2016 to 2019, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League. The increase is partly because high-profile leaders were not condemning hateful acts, Meisel said.
Antisemitic Incidents in the United States
Meisel said the Charlottesville riot is a “bookmark” for the recent rise of antisemitism in the United States. In August 2017, white supremacists and Neo-Nazis rioted to prevent the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virgina. They chanted a Nazi phrase, “blood and soil,” according to ABC News, and a rioter drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing one person and injuring 19 others.
Former-President Donald Trump initially said that “many sides” caused violence during the riot, and took two days to say that he “condemns … this display of hatred, bigotry and violence,” the New York Times reported.
When public officials don’t condemn hateful acts like the Charlottesville riot, they affirm the hateful action, Meisel said.
“When extremists are being emboldened and you don’t have enough communal condemnation, you get this normalization of hate,” Meisel said. “Biased attitudes, if not checked, it can escape into action.”
This extends to social media, Meisel said. People group with like-minded individuals on social media, so their hateful comments are affirmed, not condemned, he said.
Meisel said he thinks that condemning hateful acts, supporting victims, and education are the answers to reducing antisemitism, which is exactly what the fraternity intends to do.
The fraternity would like antisemitism education to be incorporated into Week of Welcome during discussions about racism and Xenophobia so students can spot it, understand the severity of it and intervene when they see it, Matlof said.
Matlof said he’d also like to see Cal Poly faculty trained to spot antisemitism in the classroom, so they can “shut it down.”
While the fraternity addresses the vandalism, they’d also like to support the local Jewish community and education on the Holocaust and antisemitism.
On Saturday, they started a GoFundMe to pay for the power washer and a security camera, and they exceeded their goal of $1,300 in less than an hour. After about a week, people have donated more than $26,000.
A non-profit called the AEPi Foundation offered to pay for the security camera, so all of the funds made by the GoFundMe will be donated to Yad Vashem — the World Holocaust Remembrance Center and the JCC — a local Jewish community organization. With the funds, the JCC will put on a festival educating San Luis Obispo about Judaism to connect with the community and prevent antisemitic incidents in the future.
“We’re not going to sit around and sulk because this happened,” Deutsch said. “We’re going to stand up and show them that we are stronger than whatever hate comes our way.”