Jewish Student at Reed College Struck by Rock a Day After Vandalism of Religious Symbol

An unknown assailant threw the rock through the student’s residence hall window earlier this month.

Reed College students head to the library. (Brian Brose)

A Jewish student at Reed College was struck in the head by a rock thrown through the student’s dorm room window on the night of Monday, May 6, according to an email sent to staff and the student body by Reed administration.

The incident came one day after the same student’s mezuzah, a scroll with Torah verses that many Jews affix to their doors, was removed and destroyed, Reed administrators said in the email. That incident occurred on Sunday, May 5. Holocaust Remembrance Day started that day at sundown.

“This is a clear act of antisemitism directed at a student on our campus, and that is unacceptable and unlawful behavior,” Phyllis Esposito, vice president and dean for institutional diversity, and Karnell McConnell-Black, vice president for student life, wrote. “Every Reed student, regardless of their faith, has the right to express their faith tradition through the symbols they display, clothes they wear, and practices they keep.”

The incident comes as U.S. college campuses have been riven by protests against Israel’s assault on Gaza, which followed the Oct. 7 attack on Israelis by Hamas.

The student who was assaulted with the rock, a woman, heard anti-Israel protesters outside her window on the night of May 5, says Bob Horenstein, director of community relations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, who has discussed the matter with the student.

Students for Justice in Palestine held a “noise parade” on campus that evening, Horenstein says. Reed College spokeswoman Sheena McFarland confirmed that the event took place.

The student recorded the protest on her phone, he said. Afterward, she heard protesters banging on doors in her dorm. Later that evening, she discovered that the plastic mezuzah on her door had been smashed and the scroll inside torn up, Horenstein says.

At around 2 am on Tuesday, May 7, the student was stuck by a rock thrown through her window, Horenstein said. There were rocks of various sizes in her room. The student has since left Reed and doesn’t plan to return, Horenstein says

“This did not happen in a vacuum,” Horenstein adds. “There have been complaints from students, parents and faculty for the last seven months about what they would describe as a hostile climate for Jewish students on that campus.”

A group of students and faculty met with Reed president Audrey Bilger on March 7, along with representatives from the Jewish Federation and Hillel, a Jewish organization on college campuses.

“They described Reed as a hostile environment,” Horenstein says. “Two of the four students said they planned to transfer.”

Reed brought in a group called the Academic Engagement Network for two workshops on April 25. AEN works to counter antisemitism, oppose the denigration of Jewish and Zionist identities, and educate people about Israel, according to its website.

“We take incidents of antisemitism or any bias-motivated incident very seriously,” McFarland, the Reed spokeswoman, said in an email. “Such behavior has no place at Reed College or anywhere. These are challenging times, and our responsibilities to all of our students have our full and sustained attention.”

Students for Justice in Palestine at Reed College issued a statement about the latest incidents on Instagram page.

“We are reaching out to express our sincerest condolences to any community members harmed by these acts, including the student directly affected, and other Jewish students on campus who feel unsafe in the aftermath of these events,” the group said. “This fight has never been and never will be at the expense of the Jewish faith and its practice, anywhere in the world.”

The group didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. SJP has held walkouts and sit-ins, demanding that Reed sell investments in companies that profit from the war in Gaza. A small group recently occupied the third floor of Reed’s Eliot Hall for 10 days.

“The sit-in was peaceful, and they disbanded peacefully,” McFarland says.

In November, SJP rallied on campus before some members joined a protest at the World Trade Center in downtown Portland. Four students were arrested there for illegal entry and vandalism, the college said at the time.

Incidents of antisemitism have soared nationally in recent months, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In the two-month period after the Hamas attack, antisemitic incidents reached the highest number in any two-month period since the ADL began collecting data in 1979. Between Oct. 7 and Dec. 7, ADL recorded a total of 2,031 antisemitic incidents, up from 465 incidents during the same period in 2022.

Reed has yet to identify the perpetrator, college officials said. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call the community safety office at 503-517-5355.

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