Sunny Days of Ithaca owners Deirdre and Todd Kurzweil arrived at their shop on Oct. 26 to find their storefront vandalized by Celtic crosses — a symbol co-opted by white supremacists — and posters with anti-Semitic and homophobic messages taped to their door.
The Kurzweils weren’t the only victims. Five Black Cornellians noticed the Celtic cross spray-painted on their trash cans and feces smeared on one of their cars. The general manager of Moosewood Restaurant arrived to similar posters covering their Black Lives Matter sign. And Court Street Chiropractic’s “End White Silence” sign was vandalized for the second time in recent weeks.
This isn’t the first time Sunny Days has been targeted. According to Deirdre Kurzweil, her store’s property was first vandalized on Oct. 11, when their sign saying “Hate Has No Home Here” was burned. Kurzweil replaced the sign and later found it vandalized with the Celtic cross on two separate occasions.
That same day, Jalil Evans ’21 posted on Facebook about vandalism at his home in Ithaca, located between collegetown and the commons, which he shares with four Black roommates and one white roommate, as well as two others who live in a separate part of the house. After the incident, he and his roommates went door-to-door to ask neighbors if they had seen anything, but the neighbors they asked said they hadn’t.
Evans was upset — though he said he had dealt with racist micro-aggressions before, this incident was, by far, his worst ordeal.
“This is the most blatantly racist thing I have experienced,” Evans said. “Most of my experiences of racism as a Black man in America have been more subtle, people doubting your abilities in the workplace, being suspicious when you didn’t do anything just because of the color of my skin.”
Evans has filed a bias report with the University and a report with the Ithaca Police Department.
Patti Jacobson ’76, who has run Court Street Chiropractic for 31 years, said she has been in contact with the IPD in investigating the vandalism of the “End White Silence” sign in front of her store.
In response to the vandalism, Jacobson purchased 100 “End White Silence” signs, which she said she will post around downtown Ithaca with a friend. She blamed both the national and local political polarization for these incidents, referring to clashing Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter protests that have swept Ithaca for the past couple of weekends.
“There’s a lot of anti-Semitic as well as racist rhetoric right now. That’s stirred up by Trump and all of his people locally,” Jacobson said. “Our own congressman Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) portrays and describes us as ‘extreme Ithaca liberals,’ which makes us separate and stirs up this kind of anger and behavior.”
On Oct. 27, Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 tweeted about the incidents, saying that his office was also targeted, along with the homes and offices of Jewish Ithacans.
According to Myrick, the IPD is working to find the suspect and is in contact with those who were targeted.
The IPD and did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. Cornell University Police Chief David Honan said in a statement to The Sun that CUPD will have extra staffing on election night and has “worked collaboratively with affected communities to direct patrols to address their concerns.”
Honan added that he has been in contact with IPD chief Dennis Nayor on the investigation, saying that the IPD is actively looking into the vandalism incidents.
“As I have stated in my weekly message to the Cornell Campus, there is no place for bigotry, intolerance, hatefulness or violence on our campus or in our community,” Honan said. “Cornell Police partners with many of our campus and community counterparts to ensure we do our part to make this a welcoming and inclusive community.”
While the status of the investigation has yet to be publicly released, Kurzweil said she doesn’t feel unsafe because of the incidents.
“I don’t feel in danger … I choose not to live my life in fear. I am choosing to look at this as this is a poor human who needs help,” Kurzweil said.
Evans said he, at first, worried for his safety, but now, he is stressed by the amount of time addressing the incident has taken up.
“It’s been one of the more stressful periods of my life. When you post something like this, you get messages from all angles, on Facebook, phone calls, emails,” Evans said. “I have classwork, and I’m a co-founder of a startup and an organization on campus. There is a lot I was already juggling.”
Community leadership, including Rabbi Ari Weiss, the executive director of Cornell Hillel, and John Rawlins III ’06, president of the Cornell Black Alumni Association, are working to support Jewish and Black communities on campus in the aftermath of these vandalism incidents.
Weiss is working with other Jewish leaders on campus, including the student president of Hillel Avi Kupperman ’21, to support students who feel unsafe, including promoting their recently created text-a-rabbi hotline.
According to Kupperman and Weiss, many Jewish students expressed concerns about these incidents, especially their timing — close to the second anniversary of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. Kupperman and Weiss said they hope that students will reach out to their friends and support one another.
“Hillel [a rabbi born in 110 BCE] said that the core of Jewish religion is that what is hateful to you, do not do to others. I wish that the person who did this had taken that advice,” Weiss said. “Cornell Hillel stands in solidarity with anyone who is being targeted for their race, religion, or ethnicity.”
Rawlins reached out to Evans after the incident and is coordinating with the rest of the Black Alumni Association to support the community. He expressed support across racial and religious lines.
“Just as much as we have to speak out against anti-Black racism, we have to speak out against anti-Semitic statements,” Rawlins said. “It’s heartbreaking. I’m not surprised [by this incident], but at the same time, for me as an educator, and as someone who is also an activist, it shows the work that we do is important, and is still needed.”
Update, Oct. 29, 12:36 p.m.: This article was updated to include a statement from Cornell Police Chief David Honan.