Holding Antisemites Accountable.

Close this search box.

Jewish Student’s Mezuzah Torn from her Door in California University Dorms

On Saturday night, Bella Yadegar, a freshman majoring in artificial intelligence for business, discovered that her mezuzah — a parchment inscribed with Hebrew verses from the Torah — was missing from its usual spot on her doorway at New North Residential College. After searching around the hallway, she found it by the exit. On her doorway was a portion of the adhesive remnant. 

The mezuzah traditionally signifies a Jewish household and is a reminder of God’s presence in the home. Jewish students can request a mezuzah from Chabad at USC through its website.

“A mezuzah is a ritual object that Jewish people traditionally affix to their doorway and it’s because in our liturgy, in one of our prayers, it says that we will put the words of the Torah on our doorposts so that it reminds us in our comings and goings,” said Rachael Cohen, the assistant director of USC Hillel. “It’s meant to bless a home.”

Yadegar and Jewish groups on campus said it was ripped off in an act of hate.

“I’ve always felt really safe at USC. I haven’t had any instances where I felt targeted for being Jewish … which is why I think I was really shocked,” Yadegar said. “I would never think it would happen somewhere where it hasn’t really appeared to be an issue before.”

After discovering her mezuzah, Yadegar reached out to Dov Wagner, the director of Chabad at USC, who contacted the Department of Public Safety and University administration to launch an investigation. Wagner said it is unlikely the perpetrator will be identified, as there are no cameras in Yadegar’s hallway.

After the investigation, DPS Assistant Chief David Carlisle said there was no evidence of a hate crime. 

Although the perpetrator is unknown, Yadegar has decided to return the mezuzah to her doorway. 

“I was definitely nervous coming to sleep [in New North] that night, even though the mezuzah wasn’t up. I feel more safe with the mezuzah up,” Yadegar said. “I’m Jewish and I’m proud of my identity and I’m not gonna hide who I am … But it just put me a little bit on edge.” 

Antisemitism on college campuses increased following the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, which began Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza. 

A study from the American Jewish Committee analyzing antisemitism in January found that a quarter of current or recent college students have avoided wearing, carrying or displaying items that would identify them as Jewish out of fear of antisemitism. 

“We have every reason and right to be proud of our identity,” Wagner said. “Every act of trying to attack that, trying to tear it down should just call out in us an even greater willingness to stand up and be proud and speak out.”

The nationwide uptick in antisemitic incidents has affected Jewish students’ feelings of security, Cohen said. She said students may see antisemitic and hurtful content online without warning and USC needs to consider the way the incident at New North affects student feelings of safety in their response to the situation.

“It’s important, again, to just go back to this piece of vulnerability [about Jewish students’ identity] and [realize] that whether this was antisemitism or not, the framing is that since incidents like this have been happening, it’s important that the University treat it with the utmost respect,” Cohen said.

Following the outbreak of violence Oct. 7, President Carol Folt issued a statement that received backlash for its ambiguity. A subsequent statement from Folt on Oct. 31 condemned antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and xenophobia and called for critical thinking and civic engagement.

“It’s up to all of us to foster learning environments where free inquiry and expression are protected, while at the same time being very clear as a community about our expectations for civil and respectful discourse,” Folt said at the Western Region Summit on Antisemitism in Higher Education Nov. 6.

Chabad at USC documented Yadegar’s situation on Instagram.

“This is the real-life consequences of the kind of hateful rhetoric that has been allowed to fester on our campus and around the country,” the Chabad at USC Instagram account wrote in the description of a post Sunday about the incident.

Cohen said Hillel and Jewish student leaders have worked to support the Jewish community on campus through weekly Shabbat dinners, community events and making two part-time mental health professionals available for community members through Hillel.

“USC used to be a campus that wasn’t actually open to Jewish students at all, and so that we’ve truly come a long way since then,” Cohen said. “The University has really been an incredible and strong partner in helping us support Jewish life and create safe space for Jewish students.”

Yadegar said she has felt supported by the University and isn’t aware of any other acts of antisemitism on campus. 

“I know that USC is behind the Jewish community and they will do the right thing in general, and I know that I have their support, so it makes me feel more safe being here,” Yadegar said.