The Madison Hillel building was vandalized Tuesday at about 1:30 a.m., including an apparent attempt to set fire to a table inside the structure. The motive is not believed to be antisemitism.
The vandalism took place during riots following the gruesome death last week of George Floyd, a black man who was in Minneapolis police custody. Nobody was in the building.
“What’s happening with justice and inequality and people losing their lives, it’s just so sad,” said Greg Steinberger, president and chief executive officer of Madison Hillel. “It can’t remain.”
He said the widespread damage in the area is an indicator the motive was not antisemitism. “On our little block, there were at least four storefronts that had damage,” Steinberger said.
The Madison Hillel building, the Barbara Hochberg Center for Jewish Student Life, 611 Langdon St., is a block from State Street. This major student artery at the University of Wisconsin in Madison has been a focal point for rioting.
Hundreds of protesters gathered peacefully at the state Capitol building before a small group broke off and started looting early Tuesday morning, and this inspired others to follow, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
During the unrest, someone broke a glass panel at Adamah Neighborhood Table, a restaurant that sits in a corner of the Madison Hillel building. A Madison Hillel camera recorded people rioting, and at least one person entered the building through the broken glass.
“Somebody ran in and pushed stuff around and made a mess,” Steinberger said. Several bottles of alcohol were thrown into the building, he said. A nearby liquor store had been looted.
A student witness said it looked like someone set alcohol ablaze on a raised table that abuts the front-facing window inside Adamah Neighborhood Table. It’s where students sometimes sit with laptops and coffee.
“It must have extinguished itself right away.” Steinberger said.
“I do not feel in any way what that we were being targeted,” he said. “If you walk down State Street, it’s a disaster.”
Dozens of area buildings have been vandalized in recent days, according to media reports.
Steinberger said the Madison Hillel building has been boarded up, which requires drilling holes. The boarding-up effort has caused damage, Steinberger said.
In an email blast, Steinberger wrote: “People are exercising their First Amendment rights, though others are also choosing to use violence against buildings and people. We are witnessing peaceful and violent reactions. We are experiencing pain, anger, exhaustion, helplessness, while also living through the global pandemic and its terrible impact on our communities of color. The heat is rising.”
The Chabad building in Madison has also suffered damage.
“We are living through this tumult that is so terrible,” Steinberger said. “Everybody is so upset and sad, on top of COVID–19. We can repair what was done.”