Pacific School of Religion in North Berkeley reports 2 anti-Semitic incidents

Samuel Albillo/Staff

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Two anti-Semitic incidents occurred at the Pacific School of Religion in North Berkeley earlier this month, causing concern among community members.

On Nov. 13, a student at the Pacific School of Religion noticed that someone had drawn a swastika in the Bible usually put out for worship. A week later, a staff member noticed that someone had written “Adolph Hitler” on a piece of paper on the bulletin board at the entry of the chapel, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

The Pacific School of Religion reported both incidents to the Berkeley Police Department. The school suspects the incidents occurred at the same time, but it is still unknown by whom, according to Berkeleyside.

“People are concerned that our sacred space and sacred text were defaced in that kind of way,” said Dr. Sharon Fennema, assistant professor of Christian worship and director of worship life at the school. “We have several Jewish members of our community; I think they were feeling it, in particular, some concern over whether or not this was creating an unsafe environment for them.”

On Tuesday, faculty, staff and students of the school gathered at the Holy Hill chapel to hold a service and conversation in response to the incidents. Fennema said the school invited people in the community to come forward to transform the swastika drawn over Psalm 124 of the Bible into something else. In a religious practice of creating art around sacred text, known as illumination of manuscript, the swastika was replaced by a tree with water and other words, Fennema said.

With a crowd of about 50 people at the event — the Bible was buried outside the chapel to keep the Jewish tradition of burying a Torah in a cemetery or synagogue when it is defaced or cycles out of use.  

“It was really beautiful to see the way that people from different schools within the graduate theological union and neighboring churches and colleges came together to give a message that we won’t tolerate this kind of hate-mongering and that as a community our reaction isn’t going to be to lock our doors,” Fennema said.

Recent research by the Anti-Defamation League, an international Jewish nongovernmental organization, found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent in 2017. This rise is due in part to the the increasing number of incidents in schools and colleges, nearly double compared to the year before and quadruple the year before that.

“The global rise of anti-Semitism is incredibly upsetting and frightening,” said ASUC Senator Justin Greenwald in an email, who ran on a platform to create a more sustainable, safe and tolerant campus. His office has held and is planning more programs on the historical and contemporary threat of anti-Semitism.

Contact Katherine Kemp at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katherinekemp.