A sign was unlawfully taken from the Jewish Student Center on Sunday, Sept. 8, at 12:52 a.m., according to an incident report received by the Lehigh University Police Department. The case is still under investigation.
The incident occurred around the time of other reports of vandalism on campus.
The theft raised questions of physical and emotional security for the Jewish Student Center.
Rabbi Steve Nathan said his suspicions began he noticed the sign was gone. When he called LUPD to report the missing sign, he was told someone had already reported the sign as stolen.
Nathan said this news caused him to believe the act specifically targeted the Jewish Student Center.
“It’s concerning to us…the specific act might seem minor,” he said. “Nothing was broken, no graffiti. Given the current rise of anti-Semitism in our country and on college campuses… the fact that (people) specifically targeted the Jewish Student Center… makes you feel uneasy.”
Chloe Goldstein, ’20, Jewish student life engagement and program associate, said she experienced a similar unsettling reaction. She then questioned the incident and its extent.
“It’s not crazy to think, ‘Where is this going?’ You don’t know where it is going to lead to… I question (the incident),” Goldstein said. “I’m not trying to be silent or let it go.”
Both Nathan and Goldstein said the theft revisits worldly and local wounds that haven’t fully healed. Anti-Semitism has become more local in the past year, reaching Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania.
The Jewish Student Center theft reminded Nathan and Goldstein of the fear and pain of anti-Semitic acts and behaviors.
Nathan said while the theft created a resonating tension, it will not affect the Jewish Student Center’s attitude going forward.
“(The theft) is not going to affect the Jewish Student Center’s programming or presence on campus,” Nathan said. “Certainly, we are going to be more cognizant about what’s going on in the area.”
Goldstein said the Jewish Student Center will continue to be open and accepting of its members and those who are looking to educate themselves.
LUPD Detective Lieutenant David Kokinda said the incident at the Jewish Student Center is considered a theft, and the aggressor’s charges depend on the value of the item stolen, which amounts to $25.
If, however, after being detained, the aggressor admits to stealing the sign specifically because it belonged to the Jewish Student Center, the charge could be ethnic intimidation, Kokinda said.
He said the theft is an open investigation, and his investigative department is following up on leads and using all available information to solve the case.
Kokinda said identifying the aggressor tends to be the biggest hurdle in an investigation, and the lack of information can greatly stunt progress. He said when reporting an incident, details are crucial.
“Try to be as specific as possible, look for the distinct features (of the aggressor), distinct damage,” Kokinda said.
Nathan said LUPD has been of great help during the investigation, but lack of clarity in security camera footage has made it difficult to identify suspects.