Rabbi gives thieves who stole from Chabad House a second chance

Courtesy of Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah The thieves pose in a photo showing the items they stole from the Chabad House.

This article was posted on The Daily Aztec website on May 24, 2021.

On April 15 at approximately 2:30 a.m., four individuals broke into the Chabad House. Two San Diego State students and one person visiting from Hawaii stole two pictures and some apples. The fourth person reportedly did not steal anything. Those who stole proceeded to post what they had stolen on social media. Instead of pressing charges, Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah gave these young adults a second chance. 

Chabad House is a place for the Jewish community to come together, Boudjnah said, “Chabad at San Diego State University sets into motion a dazzling array of programs and services to educate, inspire and uplift Jewish students from all walks of life with unconditional love and acceptance. At Chabad, we are all family.

The most important items stolen were the pictures. The first, depicts Boudjnah’s wife, Mairav Boudjnah, and other young women making a traditional bread called Challah for the holiday Shabbat. The second picture was of Boudjnah hanging a mezuzah at someone’s house. 

Boudjnah met with the three individuals who stole from the Chabad House. Over the phone, he told them he was planning to press charges with the San Diego Police Department, but first, he wanted to hear what they had to say. 

“I believe we all do things we regret,” Boudjnah said. “At least if I ever did something like that I would want to be given a second chance. And I believe that there is good in people, and that if we are given a second chance sometimes we become better.”

When they met, Boudjnah said they seemed apologetic and scared. After coming to an agreement, Boudjnah decided not to press charges. 

“I said to them if you write a letter of apology and commit to volunteering for 10 hours wherever you’d like…then at least somebody else would benefit from something sad like this,” Boudjnah said. 

The two SDSU students held up their end of the agreement, including removing their social media posts of the stolen items. However, the third individual who was visiting from Hawaii posted a second photo of himself from the Chabad House security camera footage just days after meeting with Boudjnah. His post was joking about the entire situation. 

“It really shows that you don’t really care,” Boudjnah said. “You really didn’t learn anything.”

Boudjnah said he had determined the original act of breaking in was not motivated by anti-semitism, after speaking with the students. However, he said the second post made by the individual from Hawaii was. 

“It was almost like he was proud of what he has done,” Boudjnah said. “I would call that maybe anti-semitic because he didn’t really care. Now we had this whole conversation, I opened my heart, I gave you a second chance and now you are going on and showing the world it is a big joke and nothing really matters. It was very disappointing.”

SDSU graduate and former member of AEPi, Jared Levine said this act made a “mockery” of what Boudjnah did for these young adults. 

Due to the nature of the break-in, and the fact that all of the items were returned, Boudjnah would not be able to press charges as harshly as he would like against the non-SDSU student from Hawaii.

“I don’t really want to say that I don’t press charges because I don’t want other people to think that we don’t press charges,”  Boudjnah said. “After speaking with the police I realized there was not that much they can do. And for me what I really believe is that he is going to do it again. Somebody who doesn’t feel any guilt or doesn’t realize what he has done is wrong is going to do it again and that is the best punishment in a way. Destiny is not going to be so kind to him.”

As for the other students, the university wanted to investigate them, however, Boudjnah asked them not to because they had held up their end of the agreement. They also tried to convince their friend in Hawaii to remove his post but have been unable to get through to him. 

“The university came and they wanted to investigate and do a judicial review of those students who were involved and everything else, and I told them ‘Look, I had an agreement with those other students and they have kept to their agreement. I don’t want to expose their names. I don’t want to expose them because I really believe if I give them a second chance I want them to truly receive that second chance,’” Boudjnah said. “The university respected my wishes and they didn’t pursue. which I am very grateful for.”

Former president of AEPi at SDSU, Ofek Suchard said Boudjnah showed compassion toward the students who stole from him.  

Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah stands next to the former president of AEPi, Ofek Suchard.
Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah stands next to the former president of AEPi, Ofek Suchard. Photo courtesy of Ofek Suchard.

“He didn’t think that necessarily what they did was driven by anti-semitism…He realized that these were young adults who made a mistake and he wanted to give them the opportunity to own up to their mistake and move on,” Suchard said. 

Suchard said if the roles were reversed, he would not have handled the situation the same way as Boudjnah.

“To be honest with you, I understood where the Rabbi came from but I didn’t necessarily agree with his decision,” Suchard said. “But I did trust him, that whatever decision he makes is the right one. Maybe ‘agree’ is not the right word, but if I was in his shoes I would have pressed charges on them initially because I feel like that would have taught them a lesson even if it screwed them over a little bit.”

Levine said he applauds Boudjnah for what he did and said it was “very honorable.” 

Suchard described Boudjnah and his wife as his parents away from home. 

“I want people to know that Rabbi Chalom, he dedicates his entire life to SDSU students…obviously he is a Jewish Rabbi so his priority is Jewish students but he is there for every single student at SDSU and he cares about them,” Suchard said. 

Levine said although the break-in might appear to be small, it scared a lot of people. 

“For people who want to do this, just know you are already harming a community that is already feeling pain, a community that has gone through so much,” Levine said. “And even though you may think the action is small, stealing something from a Chabad House, it scared a lot of people. It made a lot of people feel uncomfortable in a place they feel comfortable, a place where they go to be with their community. And it is unsettling.”

Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah marches with students for Holocaust Remembrance Day. This photo was taken before COVID-19.
Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah marches with students for Holocaust Remembrance Day. This photo was taken before COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah.

Given the current climate with unrest in Israel, Boudjnah said the Jewish community on campus has felt uncomfortable. Boudjnah said one student came to him and described feeling “inferior” to her friends.

“You could have debates, should Israel do this, should Israel do that, that is totally fine,” Boudjnah said. “We should also question everything. But to blame a group of students, to blame some staff, to blame people that are Jewish but not Israelis and to tell them ‘oh it is your fault and we don’t need the Jews,’ that is different than Israel.”

Boudjnah said when people are having these debates, they may say things they don’t even realize are anit-semitic. 

“There is people who just hate, and then there are people who are ignorant,” Boudjnah said. “So the people who are ignorant should learn and be educated. The people who hate should be punished.”

SDSU released a statement addressing the incident saying “what occurred is both offensive and unacceptable.”

“In general I think the world and SDSU just needs to take a look at how they treat the Jewish community and how they perceive the Jewish community and treat us with a little bit more respect,” Levine said. 

Noah Hoffman and Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah stand in Chabad House. This photo was taken before COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah.
Noah Hoffman and Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah stand in Chabad House. This photo was taken before COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah.

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