After attack, officer posted outside Hillel

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Two days after improvised firebombs were thrown at the off-campus house of Brown/RISD Hillel employee Yossi Knafo, the University is enhancing security and preparing an open forum to discuss what the attack means for the Brown community.

Though the perpetrator or perpetrators and the motivation behind the attack are still unknown, an armed Department of Public Safety officer has been placed outside the Glenn and Darcy Wiener Center on Brown Street, which houses Hillel, said Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, interim vice president for Campus Life and Student Services. The building’s main door has been locked and those wishing to enter must ring the doorbell or be let in by the officer.

Hillel has also partnered with organizations outside of Brown to offer a $10,000 reward for anyone who finds information on the perpetrators. Hillel, the Anti-Defamation League and the Rhode Island Federation have offered the reward, said Jonathan Kappel, the ADL’s interim New England regional director. ADL Eastern States Civil Rights Counsel Robert Trestan will be working with the community and the police on the ongoing investigation, Kappel added.

The measures come after two Molotov cocktails – glass bottles filled with gasoline, stuffed with rags and then lighted – were hurled at Knafo’s apartment at 122 Camp St. early Saturday morning. One burned the outside of his house, while the other landed in his bedroom but did not explode. Knafo, who was in the kitchen with a friend at the time, was uninjured and has been moved to an undisclosed location.

Knafo is an emissary from the Jewish Agency for Israel and has been working at the Hillel since September.

An open forum will be held today to give Brown community members an opportunity to “express their outrage and fear” and to discuss other safety concerns raised by the incident, said Margaret Klawunn, associate vice president of campus life and dean for student life.

In an e-mail sent to Brown community members yesterday evening, Carey wrote that the forum will be held at 5:30 p.m. in Alumnae Hall’s Crystal Room.

University officials said it’s too soon to comment on whether the attack was a hate crime. Both the Providence Police Department and the FBI are currently investigating the incident.

University Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson said Knafo is being “very well cared for” right now, but declined to comment further. It isn’t clear if Knafo returned to work on Monday.

She added that in her 18 years at Brown, she has always seen a “converging” of people of different faiths in the face of “sad moments” like this one.

“Any time anyone is in harm’s way at Brown, I’m troubled,” Nelson said.

She described Knafo as a “warm, constructive, positive (and) resilient” person who is “an honored and respected member of the Brown family.”

Several students and a professor interviewed for this article said they were shocked to hear that the attack involved a Brown affiliate.

Professor of Political Science Alan Zuckerman said the incident was “clearly upsetting” and gives everyone a reason to be concerned.

But Zuckerman said it is “difficult to identify if (the incident) is isolated or part of a pattern.”

Herald Graphics Editor Adam Robbins ’09, who went to Israel with Knafo over winter break as part of Hillel’s Taglit-Birthright trip, a free 10-day trip to Israel for Jewish students, said he is “not used to intolerance” in an “accepting environment” such as Brown’s.

Carly Edelstein ’08, a member of Hillel’s programming board, said she was at first relieved that Knafo, who is both her “working partner and friend,” wasn’t injured. But she said she later had an “emotional response” to the incident because she had never thought that “safety was a challenge” around Brown’s campus.

Edelstein said she sent Knafo an e-mail soon after she heard about the attack and hugged him when she saw him on Monday.

“He’s loved by everyone here” at Hillel, she said.

Edelstein said the incident is “less of a concern” for Knafo than it is for the rest of the community.

“He has probably dealt with a lot more intense issues than this,” she said, referring to Knafo’s experiences in his native Israel and his service in the Israeli army.

But Rachel Cohn ’10, another student at Hillel, said that even if Knafo is used to violence because of his background, nothing justifies the attack.

Jon Mitchell ’09, vice president for cultural arts on Hillel’s student executive board, said when he first heard about the incident he felt “shock and concern for Yossi.” But Mitchell also “hoped to God” that a Brown or RISD student was not behind the attack.

Mitchell said he didn’t want Brown to be another school involved in the “wave of anti-Semitic acts” that has recently swept across college campuses. Last month, four students at Philadelphia’s Temple University were arrested after allegedly yelling anti-Semitic remarks and assaulting a student, a local television station reported.

But Mitchell said it is more important to realize that “violence is being used to make a statement.”

He realizes that locking Hillel’s main entrance is an important safety measure, but Mitchell said doing so is still “not an ideal situation,” because Hillel is “a space for everyone, all Brown students to come, to enjoy and be safe.”

Though several students declined to comment on whether they see the incident as a hate crime, one student said he thought the attack was “blown out of proportion.”

It was probably “some drunken college assh-s celebrating St. Patrick’s Day,” Kelley Cox ’10 said.

But Cox said if the act was “more than that,” then it was “reprehensible,” adding that he would like to know what the investigation reveals.

Aliza Rosenstein ’09 said she doesn’t find the campus or its surrounding areas less safe after the incident. But placing an armed security official outside Hillel and locking the main door were good “efforts to make the users of Hillel more safe and secure,” she said.

-With additional reporting by Franklin Kanin