Jewish community feels targeted by second act of vandalism, hate after flags stolen from Hillel Center

VT Hillel Center Thefts
Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 10:37 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Rising tensions in the Middle East are having an impact across our hometowns.

Now, for the second time in one year, the Jewish and pro-Israel community feels it is under attack in Blacksburg.

Over the weekend, someone stole a Virginia Tech and an Israeli flag from along the sidewalk leading to the Malcom Rosenberg Hillel Center.

Just a few weeks ago Hillel @ Virginia Tech put together the flag display of peace among countries across the Middle East.

“It was a display to support peace among all the countries,” Executive Director Susan Kurtz said. “The actual display of peace was working and it was really wonderful.”

Now, Virginia Tech and the surrounding Jewish community says it feels like it is a target of vandalism and hate after they were removed.

“I think a lot of those instances that are happening in the Middle East are creating a lot of emotions, a lot of confusion, a lot of things to process,” Kurtz said. “We feel it was a symbol of disagreement, and by doing that and taking someone’s personal property, is not really the solution to that issue.”

Jacob Rojas joined Hillel after moving to Virginia Tech in 2019 to study public health. He calls the act hurtful.

“One person may perceive this as how someone just stole a flag, why does this matter? But another person may now, you know, there’s a Jewish community in Blacksburg and there are students in Blacksburg who go to that building that feel they are under this kind of threat,” Rojas said. “It’s a college town, things happen, but when there’s a climate like this that we’re living in right now and you know Jewish students are feeling unsafe and an event like this happens it kind of even more escalates that.”

Both he and the director say dialogue is how to move past this, not hateful words on social media, or hate crimes at their safe space to come together.

“The Jewish community, it’s very strong and very positive and reinforcing,” Rojas said. “We have amazing staff members and amazing professionals that are here to support students.”

Kurtz said it was important to put the flags back to show that one act of vandalism is not going to stop the good and peace that they spread at Hillel.

“I think the best way is for us all to share opinions, to ask questions to try and educate ourselves more and more about it,” she said.

The other act of hate happened Sept. 11, 2020, when someone threw an Israeli flag into the trash.

The Hillel Center is working with Blacksburg Police and the FBI to determine who stole the flags.

They plan to hold a Zoom call Tuesday from 1 to 3 p.m. as a safe space to talk for anyone who is feeling concerned after this most recent act. You can reach out to the center on social media to get a Zoom link to participate in the dialogue.

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