A Jewish couple have reported being victims of a hate crime here in Oberlin.
Benjamin Kuperman said he was awoken by noise outside his Eastern Avenue home about 3:25 a.m. Thursday, according to a police report. He said he found decorative seashells that he had left on his porch smashed and a note behind a mezuzah he had hung on his front door.
A mezuzah is a parchment with religious texts and a sign of the Jewish faith. The note had letters glued to it that said “Gas, Jews, Die.”
Elizabeth Kuperman, Ben Kuperman’s wife, told us Friday that she and her husband were shaken by the incident.
“We’re very saddened by it all,” she said. “When your last name is enough to damn you, it’s pretty rough.”
Elizabeth Kuperman said she’s unsure why they were targeted or whether it is related to their criticism of the election of Donald Trump. Kuperman was one of a few people quoted in a Nov. 10 article in an area daily newspaper expressing disappointment about the outcome in which the Republican Trump was elected despite Democrat Hillary Clinton receiving in excess of one million more votes.
On Nov. 11, the Kuperman’s held signs at the corner of College and Main streets saying “I Reject the President” and “Men Against Misogyny.” Trump, who has bragged on tape of groping women and referred to them as animals, pigs, and dogs in the past, was accused of misogyny during the campaign.
Benjamin Kuperman is an Oberlin College associate professor and chair of the computer science department. Elizabeth Kuperman said the college and the community have been very supportive.
In a Thursday email to faculty and students, Oberlin College president Marvin Krislov called the incident a “cowardly, hateful act” and urged them to contact Oberlin police or campus police if they are victims of hate crimes or feel unsafe.
“As our community grieves for the loss of dignity and personal/physical safety that comes with these sorts of vile attacks, these events also can galvanize us in our resolve to fight bigotry and hatred wherever and whenever they occur,” Krislov said.
Rabbi Shlomo Elkan, director of the Chabad Student Group, said he asked police to increase patrols near the Chabad Jewish Center for Orthodox Jewish students walking there to take part in the Sabbath.
“It’s hit home,” Elkan said of the incident. “(But) I also don’t think we need to be in a state of panic. Just a state of vigilance and make sure everyone stays safe.”
The incident comes during a flurry of hate crimes against black and Latino people, gays, immigrants, Jews, and Muslims since the election.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate group watchdog, said it collected information on 437 incidents around the nation between Nov. 9 and 14. The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
Anita Gray, a spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League’s Cleveland branch, said swastikas have been found on Jewish homes in Cleveland and in downtown Cleveland since the election. Trump, in a “60 Minutes” interview Nov. 13, said he was saddened to hear about hate crimes since the election and called on those responsible for them to “stop it.”
Gray said the ADL is willing to work with Trump but said the president-elect’s remarks were hypocritical given his comments during the campaign and his actions afterward. Trump called for a ban on Muslim immigration during the campaign, retweeted white supremacists, and said Mexico was sending drug dealers and rapists into the U.S.
“Once you let a genie out of the bottle, it’s hard to get the genie back in again,” Gray said. “He needs to do more than a ‘60 Minutes’ interview. He needs to make a declaration.”
Gray said the ADL is “deeply troubled” buy Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist. Bannon formerly ran Breitbart News, an anti-Semitic and white supremacist website.
Headlines have included calling conservative pundit Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew.” Shortly after a self-proclaimed white supremacist who brandished the Confederate flag on Facebook was accused of murdering nine black people in a Charleston, S.C. church last year, Brietbart ran an article praising the flag. The headline said the flag, a symbol of the Ku Klux Klan, lynchings, and Jim Crow discrimination, “proclaims a glorious heritage.”
Gray and Julia Shearson, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations Ohio branch, called for the FBI to assist Oberlin police in investigating the incident. Police chief Juan Torres said his officers plan to notify the FBI about the incident.
Shearson said there have been a couple of incidents reported to her group regarding Muslims in the Cleveland area being harassed since the election. She said the Oberlin incident confirms people’s worst fears about Trump’s victory empowering hate groups and individuals. It’s important that Muslims, Jews, and other minority groups show solidarity in condemning hate crimes, she said.
“I would consider an attack on a member of the Jewish community as an attack on a member of the Muslim community,” she said. “Both the Jewish community and the Muslim community are very vulnerable along with the African-American, Hispanic, and LGBT community.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.