Exterior view of Alpha Epsilon Pi
The Alpha Epsilon Pi house at UC Berkeley, the grounds of which were recently strewn with shellfish in an apparent antisemitic act. Courtesy: Alpha Epsilon Pi

This story was updated on Wednesday, Aug. 30, after Berkeley police confirmed the shellfish-dumping incident at Alpha Epsilon Pi is being investigated as a hate crime. It was first published on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

Alpha Epsilon Pi, UC Berkeley’s Jewish fraternity house, discovered early Saturday that hundreds of shellfish were dumped across its property and thrown through a window. Police are investigating what the fraternity is calling an “act of antisemitic vandalism.”

This story first appeared on J. The Jewish News of California

“We go outside, we saw crayfish had been thrown all over our deck, all over the side driveway, through the windows into someone’s room and scattered all around the backyard,” said Jadon Gershon-Friedberg, a UC Berkeley senior and the AEPi chapter president, who lives in the fraternity house. A fraternity brother had noticed a half-dozen people with a bucket approach the house just before 1 a.m., he said.

Gershon-Friedberg and other fraternity brothers immediately checked around neighboring fraternity houses to see whether shellfish had been dumped on their property too. They believe theirs was the only target.

“We realized this is more than just a prank,” Gershon-Friedberg said. 

Given that the perpetrators used shellfish, a food explicitly forbidden under Jewish dietary law, and that they targeted the Jewish fraternity on the first Shabbat of the school year, AEPi considers the incident an “act of antisemitic vandalism,” according to a statement released Sunday. “This incident was undoubtedly deliberate, aimed at intimidating our chapter,” AEPi’s statement said.

Gershon-Friedberg called 911 and said officers arrived at the house quickly. He said he filed police reports with both the city and campus police departments and hopes they will investigate the vandalism as a hate crime.

On Wednesday, Berkeley police told J. in an email that the department is investigating the matter as a hate crime “due to the nature of the incident.”

“On August 26th, at 1:07 a.m., a caller reported a hate crime that just occurred at Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity located on Piedmont Ave.,” a statement from public information officer Jessica Perry said.

“An unidentified group of college-aged students threw dozens of crawfish all over the property’s exterior and into the house’s windows,” the statement said. “Officers responded to the call and spoke with fraternity members who advised that Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity is a social fraternity founded on Jewish principles and the only Jewish fraternity on the UC Berkeley Campus. Students mentioned that crawfish were a type of shellfish forbidden under the body of Jewish law relating to food. This incident occurred during Sabbath, a day of religious observance kept by Jewish people, and fraternity members were disturbed and offended by the overt act of hate towards them.”

Campus police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When the sun rose on Saturday, Gershon-Friedberg saw the full extent of the mess, which left a strong, fishy odor in and around the house.

“We found claws by the side of the house and by the door. We found a fish tail and head in someone’s room,” he said. “It was absolutely disgusting.”

AEPi’s national office paid for a cleaning crew to clear away the shellfish and pressure-wash the deck that morning.

Gershon-Friedberg and Jon Pierce, a former AEPi International president who now serves as the chapter’s spokesperson, both said that the fraternity plans to use the incident to help Berkeley students understand what antisemitism looks like and how to ensure the safety of Jews on campus and more broadly.

“Maybe this is a crime of ignorance as much as a crime of hate,” Pierce said. 

Gershon-Friedberg also sent a letter to the UC Berkeley administration detailing what happened.

“We are saddened and dismayed by what appears to be a hateful incident of antisemitism targeting the members of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity,” UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said.

“The campus administration has a long-standing and unwavering commitment to confronting antisemitism, and its expression, as we do with all forms of bias, discrimination, and hatred,” Mogulof added. In response to the incident, UC Berkeley’s vice chancellors of equity and inclusion and of student affairs are offering their support to fraternity members and other Jews on campus, Mogulof said.

“An investigation is underway,” he said, “and we will, as always, ensure there are appropriate consequences if laws, campus policies, and/or the Student Code of Conduct are found to have been violated.”

There are 20 students who live at the AEPi house, and 25 students total in the chapter. The fraternity has eight students who keep kosher, according to Gershon-Friedberg.

“Everyone is still a little shaken up,” Gershon-Friedberg said. “This is our home.”