For the past four years College librarians and security officers have been struggling with a bizarre investigation: trying to discover who is responsible for hundreds of pro-Christian leaflets distributed throughout the stacks of Sawyer library.
This propaganda has taken two forms. The first leaflets originally appeared as pamphlet-sized cards advertising a “Jews for Jesus” organization whose goal is to convert Jews into followers of Jesus Christ. The flyer features a black and white photo of “Richard Gerrity,” who claims to have been born a Jew and converted to a “Jewish congregation which accepts Jesus as the Messiah.” His conversion story is detailed on the back above an invitation to accept Jesus as a “personal Saviour,” along with contact information for an address in Albany, NY.
More recent leaflets have featured a counterfeit $100 bill featuring Al Gore’s bearded face in the center, replacing Ben Franklin. “This is counterfeit but Jesus is the real thing” is written on the bill’s front and back. The back of the bill also contains verses from John’s Gospel that assert the divinity of Jesus and the necessity of Faith for admission to the Kingdom of God.
“It’s the same message every time,” said Jo-Ann Irace, Sawyer Circulation Supervisor.
While these messages appear occasionally in other sections of the library, the vast majority of the propaganda has been discovered in books dealing with the holocaust, Judaism or Israel.
“These materials are pro-Christian in nature rather than being obviously anti-Semitic,” said Dave Pilachowski, College Librarian. But because of the generally targeted nature of their distribution, “students have complained,” he said. “They have been personally offended and upset.”
Rabbi Sigma Coran, associate college chaplain, brought the most recent round of propaganda to the attention of librarians on behalf of students two weeks ago. “The inclusion of this flyer in specifically Holocaust books carries, I think, an additional message: that Jews could be redeemed, or could have avoided the Holocaust, if they had accepted Christ,” she said.
Flyers and bills have appeared intermittently throughout the past three to four years. But, Irace said, complaints seem to be concentrated during the summer and fall, strongly suggesting that that is when the dissemination occurs.
As soon as complaints come in, student workers are sent into the stacks in the targeted area to go through each book and remove the offensive material. The most targeted areas (those dealing with Judaism in some form) are on non-monitored floors of the library, “where there’s no ongoing staff presence,” Pilachowski said.
Thus far, complaints have been filed about books located in stacks in Sawyer Library; no offending literature has been found in any of the other libraries in the College system.
Following immediate removal of material, security is notified, Pilachowski said.
“Placing that kind of material in the library is a violation of our solicitation policy,” Dave Boyer, associate director of security, said. Also, “it could be considered harassment. Bottom line, it’s not appropriate.”
So far, security has little information as to the identity of the perpetrators. Boyer says that no students have ever been questioned and that he’s always felt those responsible for planting the propaganda were not affiliated with the College community. The structure of the flyers and bills is inconsistent with other “strange” postings or mailings seen elsewhere on campus.
“No campus group, to my knowledge, has tried to proselytize specifically Jewish students during my time at Williams,” Coran said.
Attempts to contact Gerrity at the address and phone number printed on the bottom of the flyer have proved unfruitful.
“Even when I call undercover, pretending to be interested [in converting], there’s been no response,” Boyer said.
Whoever is responsible has been very careful about not getting caught.
“We’ve never seen anyone doing it; the messages just all of a sudden appear,” Irace said.
“They do it in private, under the cloak of darkness,” Pilachowski said. “They’re looking for a way to spread a message, on campus, in our library.”