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Jewish community members at UCLA voice concern over recent shootings

Hillel at UCLA is pictured. Jewish UCLA community members said some Jewish centers on campus implemented new safety measures following alleged antisemitic hate crimes in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Constanza Montemayor/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Constanza Montemayor

March 2, 2023 3:37 p.m.

This post was updated March 5 at 11:04 p.m.

Jewish UCLA community members expressed concern for their safety in light of recent hate crimes and reaffirmed the importance of secure religious and community programming on campus.

On Feb. 16, authorities arrested Jaime Tran, a former UCLA School of Dentistry student who was last enrolled in 2018. Tran was charged with two counts of federal hate crimes the following day.

Tran allegedly shot two individuals over the course of 24 hours in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles, an area with a large Jewish community. According to a Feb. 17 press release from the United States Department of Justice, both victims were wearing clothing visibly identifying their Jewish faith.

The recent shootings have generated greater feelings of vulnerability surrounding publicly displaying a Jewish identity, said Rachael Petru, director of philanthropic partnerships for Hillel at UCLA, in an emailed statement. Hillel at UCLA is an on-campus organization aiming to offer community and cultural learning for Jewish students.

Tran was known to have sent antisemitic, threatening emails to Jewish student peers at the university less than a year ago, federal investigators found in a court complaint. He also perpetuated several antisemitic tropes about Jewish people, Petru said in the statement. Hateful speech often precedes acts of bigoted, physical violence, Petru said, adding that the proximity of the shootings has made the situation feel particularly unsafe.

Rabbi Dovid Gurevich, director of Chabad House at UCLA, a Jewish student center providing educational, social and religious programming, said Chabad has been in contact with UCPD to ensure safety and threat preparedness since the shootings. UCPD officers have recently visited the center to familiarize themselves with its layout, helping staff feel safer, Gurevich said.

Hillel made sure to have an armed guard stationed at the building during all hours of operation following the shootings to ensure security, Petru added in the statement. As another safety measure, Hillel’s professional staff also reviewed emergency scenarios and procedures for different emergency situations, she said.

However, security is often already a concern for the community, Gurevich said.

In response to the crimes, Hillel remained open to offer Shabbat services and dinner and lunch gatherings during Presidents’ Day weekend, and Shabbat RSVPs increased during that time, Petru said in the statement.

“Providing programs that specifically focus on antisemitism can be a source of increased intellectual capacity and empowerment. We offer this kind of education to all community members – Jewish and non-Jewish alike,” Petru said. “It means a lot when other communities connect with us in our time of vulnerability and fear, and we work to show up for other communities during their times of need, as well.”

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, the West Coast director of Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, said his services have hired armed guards for the past two weeks of Shabbat and asked UCPD to help monitor gatherings.

“I definitely have felt a sense of students being a little bit more on edge in those days immediately following, but … I think that continuous, regular interaction, getting back to normal has allowed students to regain some of their comfort and centeredness,” Kaplan said.

He added that he will continue listening to the community to help decide how to adjust current security measures for upcoming events.

Joshua Mehrdad, a fourth-year psychology student and member of Hillel, said although he was horrified to hear of the shootings, he was not surprised. Instances of antisemitism have occurred at the university before, he said, such as a series of antisemitic pamphlets that circulated the campus last year. He added that his current synagogue, also in LA, has three armed guards at all times.

[Related: Westwood residents report finding antisemitic flyers on eve of Passover]

Although he has been away from campus during the aftermath, Mehrdad said he was glad that Hillel was able to increase security during programming and offer students a place for community, especially following the crimes.

“This has been a perpetual thing. … I obviously feel a little bit scared, but I am not going to hide who I am and my identity just because of something happening,” Mehrdad said. “It happens so often. We can’t just pretend to be something else just to try to placate, to feel a little bit more safe.”

Petru said Hillel had also previously received funding from the California State Nonprofit Security Grant and the Jewish Federation of Greater LA, allowing them to reinforce other safety measures such as bulletproof glass, perimeter walls and gates, and security cameras. She added that UCPD also assists in requests for extra surveillance during particularly busy times.

“We are committed to bolstering strong, proud Jewish identities. Though we always hope for peace, being prepared for worst-case scenarios has become a required part of our work,” Petru said.

Chancellor Gene Block has also been responsive to the Jewish student community’s concerns, Petru said, adding that he also accepted an invitation to visit the Hillel community for Shabbat on Friday.

It is important to increase awareness and education of antisemitism on campus, and students who witness any hateful acts should record and report them, Petru added in the statement.

“The sense of urgency to confront and dismantle antisemitism is omnipresent in the Jewish community. We value free speech and are also mindful that words can and do cause harm, intimidation, and exclusion,” Petru said.

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Constanza Montemayor | News senior staff
Montemayor is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. She was previously the 2022-2023 News editor, the 2021-2022 features and student life editor, a News reporter, Photo contributor for the news beat and Arts contributor. She is also a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
Montemayor is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. She was previously the 2022-2023 News editor, the 2021-2022 features and student life editor, a News reporter, Photo contributor for the news beat and Arts contributor. She is also a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
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