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Sukkah vandalized at K-State: Police investigating as possible anti-Semitic act

This photo of the mangled sukkah at Kansas State University was taken after it was moved from the parking lot where it was found back to campus grounds.

A sukkah was vandalized on Oct. 6 on the campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan, and K-State police are considering the incident a possible anti-Semitic act.

Glen Buickerood, a K-State graduate student who is not Jewish, led an effort between the university and K-State’s Jewish student organization, Hillel, to have its sukkah on campus, Buickerood wrote in an email to university officials describing the vandalism. Buickerood declined to answer questions about the incident and referred questions to K-State officials.

K-State spokesman Jeff Morris confirmed that university police were investigating the incident as a possible anti-Semitic act and filing a criminal damage report.

The story, originally published in the Manhattan Mercury, has received national and international attention, seen online Sunday in The Forward, the Jerusalem Post, the Times of Israel and JTA.

Hillel bought the sukkah and assembled it on Oct. 3 on the lawn behind Goodnow Hall on campus, according to Buickerood’s email. The sukkah is made of metal pipe covered with canvas and had an identifying poster tied to its front.

Buickerood said he had checked on the 8-foot-by-10-foot sukkah around 6 p.m. Oct. 6. He parked his car in a parking lot about 40 yards from the sukkah at 9:45 p.m. When he returned to his car at 11 p.m., he found the sukkah wrapped around his car and mangled.

K-State police were contacted, arrived on the scene, took photos of the sukkah’s original location and its position around Buickerood’s car and took a report of the incident from Buickerood.

The sukkah has since been replaced at its original location.

“One person could not have done this,” Buickerood wrote in the email. “This was a direct response to what the sukkah stands for and represents. I was identified with the sukkah and was targeted.”

“When something like this happens, we always tell our students that our response needs to be to stand taller and prouder,” said Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, who is the co-director for the Chabad Center for Jewish Life Serving KU & Northeast Kansas Community. “By rebuilding this sukkah, the students at KSU are reaffirming the Jewish belief that we respond to darkness with light and only get stronger than before.”

He said he travels to the K-State campus at least once a semester.  

“We work with the students there and support them in their work,” Rabbi Tiechtel said. “Sometimes they come join us here, too.”

Gregory Newmark, an assistant professor in the department of landscape architecture and regional and community planning at K-State and co-adviser at K-State’s Hillel, said that an anti-Semitic poster was displayed on campus Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 24.

Newmark is an unpaid volunteer with Hillel, and he said the organization would “love more communal support for Hillel financially so we can hire somebody to respond to these kinds of issues.”

“Kansas has a pattern of non-Jews getting caught up in anti-Semitic acts, being the victims of anti-Semitism,” he said.

In response to the vandalism of the sukkah, a Sukkot solidarity dinner, approved by Hillel, was planned for Wednesday night at Bosco Plaza on K-State’s campus.

“I personally do not identify as Jewish,” Buickerood wrote in the email. “I stand by the work I’ve done professionally in welcoming a sukkah to our campus and providing a place for religious expression for our students. What was introduced as an opportunity to support religious diversity within our family has been directly threatened and attacked.

“There are students who woke up this morning only to find a part of their religious identity, what is meant as a celebration of their faith, destroyed,” he wrote. “I can only imagine how they must feel after this incident.”