Hillel staffer moving on after attack

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A month after unidentified attackers threw two Molotov cocktails at his off-campus apartment, Yossi Knafo said he feels safe but finds it “weird” to be the “center of the mess that happened.”

Knafo, a Brown/RISD Hillel employee and an emissary from the Jewish Agency of Israel, was in his kitchen with a friend in the early morning of March 15 when one firebomb – a glass bottle filled with gasoline and stuffed with rags – burned the outside of the building and another entered his bedroom through an open window but did not explode.

The Providence Police Department and the FBI are currently investigating the incident. But both Detective Larry Reall of the PPD and FBI agent Joan Buckley, Reall’s supervisor, refused to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Knafo, who is no longer living at his old apartment, said the University has provided him with housing, which Hillel is paying for.

The University and Hillel “helped me go back to normal life,” he said with a smile.

At the first meeting of the Brown University Community Council since the incident, Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, interim vice president for campus life and student services, and President Ruth Simmons spoke briefly about the attack.

“We’re impressed with the seriousness the police department has given this incident,” Carey said. “We’ve had lots of discussions with Campus Life, the Chaplain’s office, Hillel,” he said, adding they’ve talked with students about how they’re feeling. At this point, we haven’t really sensed a need from students to do further activities to what we’ve done.”

Simmons praised the Brown community’s brave response to the attack.

“I was impressed with much of what students were saying” at the open community forum following the incident, she said.

“Although they felt very unsafe and vulnerable, they were reminded there were many who felt that way every day. They were trying to find a connection to other incidents of hate or harassment on campus,” she said.

Knafo said he came back to work at Hillel the very next week after the attack. These days, he is busy organizing events to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary of nationhood.

“We’re moving on,” he said. “It’s not like you forget it, but we’re moving on.”

Immediately following the attack, the Hillel door was locked and visitors had to ring the bell to be let in. A Department of Public Safety officer was posted outside Hillel. Knafo said he is glad those measures have now been removed and Hillel is back to being the “welcoming place” it has always been.

Knafo, who has served in the Israeli army, said, “It doesn’t matter where you come from – (having firebombs thrown at your house) is a big deal.”

“It is important to make clear that Israel is a very safe country,” he said, adding that there are no “Molotov cocktails thrown at your house in Israel.”

Knafo said he will remain at Brown until June 2009, after which he will go back to Israel.

– With additional reporting by Isabel Gottlieb