(J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — Local police are investigating after a Jewish fraternity at the University of California, Berkeley, reported finding hundreds of shellfish dumped across its property.
The shellfish were also thrown through a window at Berkeley’s chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, in what the fraternity is calling “an act of antisemitism vandalism.”
“We go outside, we saw crayfish had been thrown all over our deck, all over the side driveway, through the windows into someone’s room and scattered all around the backyard,” said Jadon Gershon-Friedberg, a Berkeley senior and the AEPi chapter president, who lives in the fraternity house. A fraternity brother had noticed a half-dozen people with a bucket approach the house just before 1 a.m., he said.
Gershon-Friedberg and other fraternity brothers immediately checked around neighboring fraternity houses to see whether shellfish had been dumped on their property too. They believe theirs was the only target.
“We realized this is more than just a prank,” Gershon-Friedberg said.
Given that the perpetrators used shellfish, a food forbidden under the laws of keeping kosher, and that they targeted the Jewish fraternity on the first Shabbat of the school year, AEPi considers the incident to be antisemitic, according to a statement released Sunday. “This incident was undoubtedly deliberate, aimed at intimidating our chapter,” AEPi’s statement said.
The vandalism comes two weeks after AEPi’s national office launched a partnership with the Anti-Defamation League. Under the partnership, the fraternity’s umbrella organization will hire a staffer to train members across its 150 chapters to respond to antisemitism and advocate for Israel. AEPi was founded more than a century ago after Jews were excluded from a New York University fraternity, and in a statement, AEPi CEO Rob Derdiger said chapter members are “on the front lines of this battle on college campuses.”
After the shellfish were discovered, Gershon-Friedberg called 911 and said officers arrived at the house quickly. He said he filed police reports with both the city and campus police departments and hopes they will investigate the vandalism as a hate crime. The Berkeley Police Department confirmed that the incident is under investigation, but didn’t specify whether it’s being investigated as a hate crime. Campus police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When the sun rose on Saturday, Gershon-Friedberg saw the full extent of the mess, which left a strong, fishy odor in and around the house.
“We found claws by the side of the house and by the door. We found a fish tail and head in someone’s room,” he said. “It was absolutely disgusting.”
AEPi’s national office paid for a cleaning crew to clear away the shellfish and pressure-wash the deck that morning.
Gershon-Friedberg and Jon Pierce, a former AEPi International president who now serves as the fraternity’s spokesperson, both said the fraternity plans to use the incident to help Berkeley students understand what antisemitism looks like and how to ensure the safety of Jews on campus and more broadly.
“Maybe this is a crime of ignorance as much as a crime of hate,” Pierce said.
Gershon-Friedberg also sent a letter to the school’s administration detailing what happened.
“We are saddened and dismayed by what appears to be a hateful incident of antisemitism targeting the members of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity,” Dan Mogulof, a UC Berkeley spokesperson, said in a statement.
“The campus administration has a long-standing and unwavering commitment to confronting antisemitism, and its expression, as we do with all forms of bias, discrimination, and hatred,” Mogulof added. In response to the incident, UC Berkeley’s vice chancellors of equity and inclusion and of student affairs are offering their support to fraternity members and other Jews on campus, Mogulof said.
“An investigation is underway,” he said, “and we will, as always, ensure there are appropriate consequences if laws, campus policies, and/or the Student Code of Conduct are found to have been violated.”
There are 20 students who live at the AEPi house, and 25 students total in the chapter. The fraternity has eight students who keep kosher, according to Gershon-Friedberg.
“Everyone is still a little shaken up,” Gershon-Friedberg said. “This is our home.”