According to Saul Spangenberg, director of Hillels of Westchester, two recent acts of vandalism that damaged a sculpture and a religious structure at Purchase College, SUNY, were not rooted in anti-semitism.
“It appears it was an excessive party night,” Spangenberg said. “I don’t see it in any way as anti-semitic.”
The college is still investigating just what happened.
Two weekends ago college officials discovered that a sukkah, an outdoor structure built in observance of the Jewish holiday Sukkot, and a large sculpture in the form of an elongated person, had been damaged. The sculpture was built by a student, Tova Hadar, who’d received a prestigious art award from the school and is involved with Hillel.
In an email he sent to students and faculty, College President Thomas Schwarz called the vandalism “an assault on the values of our community.” He went on to emphasize the importance of open-mindedness and tolerance.
“Once again,” he wrote, “I remind people that our motto, to ‘Think Wide Open,’ suggests that we should broaden our bands of acceptance as well as our horizons.”
Dennis Craig, the college’s vice president of enrollment and marketing, said Tuesday campus police had found no evidence that the vandalism was motivated by religious intolerance, something he said the school takes seriously. He said authorities aren’t sure whether the damage caused to the sukkah (he said it was partially crushed; Spanenberg said it was covered in toilet paper) and the sculpture (an arm was broken off) was intentional or the result of an accident.
“This is a college campus,” he said. “Students are stumbling around sometimes.”
Craig said police are continuing to investigate, but he’s not optimistic they’ll determine exactly what happened. Neither the sukkah nor the sculpture were under the gaze of surveillance cameras.
“We’re just frustrated,” he said.
Meantime, Spangenberg said Hillel, whose offices are on the Purchase campus, is treating the incidents as if they were only related by timing.
“It’s very much a coincidence,” he said.