An unknown individual vandalized Penn Hillel while shouting antisemitic rhetoric on Thursday morning.
At 6:55 a.m., the individual followed a member of the Hillel community inside as they were opening the door to the building ahead of a morning prayer service before knocking over "several pieces of furniture" and "shouting antisemitic obscenities about Jewish people," Hillel said in a statement posted on Instagram.
The organization said that no one was injured, and no students were witnesses to the incident when it happened. The incident came days before the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
Prior to entering the building, the individual was "overturning trash cans" and "acting erratically" on Walnut Street, Penn's Division of Public Safety wrote in a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. Penn Police were notified and found the perpetrator at Steinhardt Hall, the Penn Hillel building, where they determined that the perpetrator was "experiencing a crisis," removed the individual, and transported him for "further evaluation."
"Penn Public Safety also initiated and is following all protocols for potential bias incidents on campus, and is continuing to provide additional support to the Hillel community following this incident," DPS wrote. A spokesperson from the University did not respond to requests for comment.
College junior Marc Fishkind told the DP that he was walking to Hillel around 7 a.m. on Sept. 21 for Shacharit early morning services when he noticed there was a police car parked in front of the building and a police officer interrogating an individual whom he had never seen before. Fishkind added that the individual appeared to look older than a Penn student.
"When I walked into Hillel, I noticed that the lobby was completely trashed — one of the podiums was smashed, one of the tables was smashed. There was stuff everywhere," Fishkind said.
After asking others what happened, Fishkind said he was told that a few minutes before he arrived, a "regular attendee" was opening the door to Hillel to attend services, and the perpetrator managed to enter the building.
"He immediately started smashing things, yelling 'F**k the Jews' and 'They killed JC,'" Fishkind recounted from what he was told by someone who was there, adding that eventually, the perpetrator ran out of Hillel as the police arrived.
Fishkind said that after the police intervened, Shacharit services proceeded regularly, and by 10:15 a.m., the scene was cleaned up.
Wharton junior Sydney Freedman, an active member of the Orthodox community at Penn who frequently attends the morning Shacharit service, said she arrived in the Hillel building lobby around 7:34 a.m. The damage was still evident.
She took a photo of the lobby that showed a flipped table, scattered papers, and a damaged podium. She said she also saw flipped-over trash cans, as well as multiple police officers and several Hillel dining workers surveying the aftermath of the incident.
"This morning when I went to pray with my community like I do every day, I found that the building was vandalized, and someone had come in and started yelling, really violent and aggressive statements against my people," Freedman said. "I felt so guilty about feeling scared and then something like this happens and it's just really telling."
She said that as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, Freedman said she found it unfortunate that Penn administration has not taken “a strong stance against” antisemitism and established a “zero-tolerance policy that would potentially protect the Jewish community on campus.”
"To see our Hillel building completely vandalized from what looks to be a disgusting act of antisemitism on our campus was a complete shock," College first-year Eyal Lubin said.
In response to the incident, Hillel said that it has asked Penn to provide full-time security in front of the Hillel building "beginning immediately." The building currently has private security guards as well as off-duty and on-duty Penn Police officers.
"This person did not accidentally choose to enter our building. He did not accidentally choose to shout antisemitic slogans. He chose our building," Hillel wrote on Instagram. "He chose to do so just three days before Yom Kippur. He chose to do so one day before a number of speakers are coming to campus who have histories of making antisemitic and hate-filled statements against Jews. This was not a coincidence."
The incident came just a day before the start of the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, in which members of the Penn community have said feature speakers who have allegedly made antisemitic remarks in the past. However, there is no evidence confirmed by the DP connecting the incident to the upcoming Palestine Writes festival.
Vice President of Israel Engagement and College junior Maya Harpaz, an executive board member of Hillel, told the DP that it was "extremely heartbreaking and painful given everything that's happening right now on campus."
"When I heard, my stomach just immediately dropped," Harpaz said.
Harpaz said Hillel feels like a home for her and is a place with friendly faces around, adding that "it's definitely a scary feeling that this could happen to somewhere that you consider very safe on campus."
Editor's Note: The DP previously reported that Hillel had described the perpetrator as a student. However, the official statement changes the wording to “an unknown member of the campus community.” The identity of the individual has not been confirmed.