When Maddy Gun, a 20-year-old sophomore at Michigan State University in East Lansing returned home from school one day last September, she was horrified to discover that the mezuzah she had lovingly affixed to the doorpost had been ripped down. Not wanting to believe that she was the victim of a hate crime, she asked the management of the building if perhaps they had taken it down. After learning they had not, she asked if they could check the video security cameras to see what had happened. What they discovered was shocking; a fellow student was seen tearing down the mezuzah from her doorpost.

While anti-Semitic acts have become all-too common on college campuses across North America in recent years, Gun’s response to this act of anti-Semitism was most uncommon: She had the option to press charges against the student, but chose a different course of action. She decided to transform her encounter with hate into an opportunity for awareness. “I wanted him to get educated,” she tells Chabad.org.

Along with Rabbi Bentzion Shemtov, co-director of the Chabad Student Center at MSU with his wife, Simi, and Nate Strauss, director of Jewish Student Life at the campus Hillel, Gun sat down with the student, and described how his actions had impacted her and others on campus—many of whom had expressed fear of keeping their own mezuzahs up, and one student who had actually removed hers after the vandalism became public.

RELATED

She asked that the student take a guided tour of the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, to which he agreed. She also asked that he pay for the damage he’d done. As for Gun, she immediately affixed a new mezuzah on her doorpost.

“I knew I had to do something; I couldn’t just be a bystander,” she says. “Instead of responding in hate, I did everything in my power to make an impression on this student, and I hope that this experience will make him or anyone else contemplating an anti-Semitic act think twice before doing something of that nature.”

Rabbi Bentzion and Simi Shemtov, co-directors of the Chabad Student Center at MSU
Rabbi Bentzion and Simi Shemtov, co-directors of the Chabad Student Center at MSU

A Jewish Home on Campus

Gun, whose grandfather is a Holocaust survivor, notes that he is a big inspiration in her life. “It is remarkable to me that even though he has gone through everything he has in his life, he feels a sense of pride in his religion.” She says she, too, is proud of her Judaism and strives to emulate his resilience and inner strength.

Gun says she first encountered Judaism on campus as part of what she calls a quest to find a “Jewish home,” a place where she belonged and would be able to celebrate her heritage and traditions with like-minded young adults.

She first met the Shemtovs at a communal meal before the Yom Kippur fast, and the warmth and genuine care that she felt from the couple made her know that she had found a “home away from home,” she says.

“I’m so fortunate to be living in a time in which I don’t have to feel a sense of fear for practicing religion,” says Gun. “I feel I have an obligation to carry on my grandfather’s legacy and to proclaim to the world ‘never again’ by being a strong voice on campus for other Jews, encouraging them to choose to live without fear.”

When asked what she would share with fellow Jewish college students around the world, she replies: “I would tell them not to be scared and be proud to showcase your beliefs. It’s important not to keep your beliefs hidden because of fear. The Jewish home is sacred; I originally put up my mezuzah because I wanted to be blessed, and I am proud to continue this Jewish tradition in a joyous manner.”

Maddy Gun, left, shared her experience at a conference in Los Angeles with more than 550 college and high school students attending, dedicated to teaching students how to combat anti-Semitism.
Maddy Gun, left, shared her experience at a conference in Los Angeles with more than 550 college and high school students attending, dedicated to teaching students how to combat anti-Semitism.