Rabbi Zvi Zwiebel stepped out of the Chabad Librescu Jewish Student Center at Virginia Tech on Saturday to get some fresh air. He was met with nearly 100 hand-drawn swastikas emblazoned on leaflets littered across the front lawn, still dry in the light afternoon rain.
The leaflets were scattered one day after Chabad announced that Holocaust survivor Rabbi Nissen Mangel would speak at Virginia Tech on April 24. According to Zwiebel, “We’re strongly inclined to believe” that there is a connection between the event’s publicity and the appearance of the leaflets.
“It's shocking that it can happen at the Virginia Tech community,” Zwiebel said. “(I’ve) been here eight years and never believed such a thing can happen here.”
As the case remains active, Blacksburg Police declined to provide information regarding the investigation.
This incident comes amid a rise in anti-Semitic activity in the United States and Canada. Stories of defaced Jewish tombstones and bomb threats against Jewish community centers have routinely made headlines in early 2017.
"Why attack cemeteries? Why Jewish community centers?” wrote Samuel Kessler, postdoctoral fellow in Judaic studies in the Department of Religion and Culture, in a public statement regarding the recent uptick in threats against Jewish centers across North America. “Because those are 'religious' places — places of sacred meaning, of expressing moral and ethical difference, of cultural difference, rather than difference based on race or ethnicity.
“For the most part, one can no longer tell who a Jew is on the street. But one knows a Jewish space without much difficulty. It is the literal presence of those places in America, on American soil, that is under attack. A gravestone or a child’s playground is only a danger because it represents an idea. Anti-Semitism is about the living people."
President Timothy Sands tweeted his support for the Virginia Tech Jewish community early Sunday morning.
“@jsu_vt #Hokies stand with you. The propagators of hate may be among us, but they are not welcome in our community,” Sands wrote.
The Jewish Student Center is named for Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, professor of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech and one of the 32 victims of the April 16 shootings.
"When our community has been the recipient of a hateful, criminal act like happened last night, we need to stand together and tell people in our community that we support one another," said Assistant Vice President for University Relations Mark Owczarski. "This speaks to a lot of what President Sands and others have done in recent months, and just really stressed that importance of community and standing together."
Chabad will hold a rally in support of the Virginia Tech Jewish community at the Graduate Life Center Plaza at 5:30 p.m., March 20. All members of the Virginia Tech community are welcome to attend.