Chabad at Santa Monica College (SMC) Rabbi Eli M. Levitansky’s car was vandalized with a swastika on one car window as well as a Star of David and the words “Is Illegal” on another window on October 7.
In a phone interview with the Journal, Levitansky said that the vandalism was “a shock” and that “it obviously was a targeted crime” since only his car was vandalized and it took place in front of his place of residence, the Chabad, while he was in the process of taking down a sukkah. Levitansky also said that he couldn’t think of a prior incident that could have precipitated the vandalism. He reported the incident to the police.
Levitansky decided to issue a post from the Chabad’s Facebook page encouraging people to conduct a mitzvah in response to the vandalism, suggesting putting of tefillin, lighting Shabbat candles and giving to charity. He also set up a table in front of the Chabad to distribute challahs and Shabbat candles and also helped some men put on tefillin.
“The idea was really to give this message that, in such an event, the best response is to combat it with action and with positivity,” Levitansky said, adding that the community has responded by deciding to take such positive action. “People have written that they will be lighting Shabbat candles because of this, or they will be doing charity because of this, things of that nature. That is very, very heartwarming to see… it’s not just an outpouring support, which is nice to see, but it’s an outpouring with the next step, with action taken.”
Michael Tuitasi, Vice President of Student Affairs, said in a statement to the Journal that he was “sickened” by the “horrible, hateful incident” and called Levitansky “a great mentor to the Jewish students at Santa Monica College and whom I consider an integral part of the extended college community.” “While the incident did not occur at the college, it is felt by our community and strongly condemned.”
Tuitasi added that SMC is forming “a space for students who may have been impacted by this incident” and urged students to contact the SMC Center for Wellness and & Wellbeing.
“At Santa Monica College, there is no room for hate,” he said. “SMC stands firmly against antisemitism just as the college stands against all forms of discrimination and hate. While we cannot control hateful actions that take place away from Santa Monica College, this college is dedicated to creating a safe environment for all our students, and denounces hate speech or actions.” Tuitasi also called Levitansky’s response to the vandalism “inspiring.” “Instead of letting this act of darkness take him away from efforts to do good during the Jewish holidays, he has redoubled his efforts to help the community come together and spread light.”
Jewish groups condemned the vandalism.
“StandWithUs condemns this heinous act of anti-Jewish racism,” StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement to the Journal. “It is extremely disturbing that the vandals knew that this car belonged to a Jew and targeted him and his property based on his identity. No member of a campus community should fear for their safety simply for being Jewish. We stand with the SMC Chabad Rabbi during this difficult time.”
American Jewish Committee Los Angeles Regional Director Richard S. Hirschhaut similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “It is deeply disturbing that the personal property of the Chabad Rabbi was defaced with swastikas and other antisemitic epithets. This deliberate act of hate is intended to intimidate and sow fear in the Jewish community at Santa Monica College and beyond. Instead, let the bigots who committed this cowardly crime be put on notice that such expressions of hate will not be met with impunity.
“We urge public safety officials, on and off campus, to leave no stone unturned in their investigation, which hopefully will lead to the apprehension and prosecution of the perpetrators.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center tweeted, “Despicable acts of #Antisemitism meant to demonize and degrade Jews. Thanks to @Chabad Rabbis on [SMC] campus and around the world who lead by example to never be cowered by the haters but to always be proud Jews and lovers of Zion.”
Stop Antisemitism Executive Director Liora Rez said in a statement to the Journal, “A mere 80 years since the onset of the Holocaust, we see daily reminders in America of the same hatred that engulfed our grandparents’ worlds in Europe and think to ourselves – how did we get here again?”
Levitansky said that people shouldn’t just “feel bad” or have “fear” but instead “do something about it.” “Everybody is included in this, bringing a more positive environment and atmosphere to the world and that starts with us doing something. It means to actually add another good deed in our daily life.”