I’m grateful as a Jew for the sentiment expressed by Hackensack Mayor Jorge Meneses at an interfaith ceremony held at Temple Beth-El to rededicate the synagogue following its desecration by graffiti vandals on December 21, the first day of Chanukah: “When these things happen,” said Mayor Meneses, “it’s not (only) that particular community that suffers and feels awful. We as a whole city feel it, too.” Similar vandalism occurred on December 10 in Maywood at Temple Beth Israel.
The Anti-Defamation League’s New York Regional Office director, Etzion Neuer, says, “We are deeply troubled by a repeat attack on a Jewish place of worship in Bergen County. At a time when Jews are celebrating the joyous festival of Hanukkah, they instead find themselves cleaning symbols of hatred off their place of worship. While graffiti swastikas are often the work of malicious juveniles, the appearance of white supremacist symbols strongly suggests an extremist connection. In the Hackensack case, swastikas, the phrase ‘Jews Did 9/11,’ and the white-supremacist code ’14/88,’ were found.”
The ADL’s mission is, “To stop the defamation of the Jewish people, to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.” The organization is offering a $1000 reward to information leading to an arrest the two incidents, which are thought to be related.
“The vandalism at Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel in Maywood is both distressing and unacceptable, says Jarah Greenfield, the congregation’s rabbi. It may also offer an important opportunity, however. Greenfield said that as shocked as people were to see the signs of hatred etched around the synagogue, “The stronger impression was how this desecration so quickly transformed into an opportunity to strengthen our community relationships. The sense of solidarity in the town is truly amazing.”
After the shul board convened an emergency meeting to discuss the damage — swastikas and hate symbols were spray-painted on four areas outside the building — Greenfield reached out not only to town authorities and Jewish communal groups, but to interfaith venues, as well. Their response, she said, “has been nothing less than impressive and beautiful.”