Carmichael synagogue defaced by Nazi symbols

| November 11, 2009

Detectives from four agencies are investigating whether Nazi-themed vandalism reported at a Carmichael synagogue Tuesday morning was a hate crime, according to authorities.

Officials at Congregation Beth Shalom on El Camino Avenue contacted the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department about 10:40 a.m. to report that racist symbols and messages, including a swastika, had been spray-painted on the sanctuary, said sheriff's Sgt. Tim Curran.

Also sprayed on the building were "SS" lightning bolts – the symbol of a Nazi security force – and the message "Kristallnacht still lives," Curran said.

"Kristallnacht," meaning "Crystal night" or "the Night of Broken Glass," refers to an event 71 years ago this week in which Nazis in Germany attacked Jewish people, synagogues and businesses.

Over the course of Nov. 9 and Nov. 10, 1938, more than 1,000 synagogues were damaged, at least 91 Jews were killed and some 30,000 Jewish men arrested.

In the attack on Congregation Beth Shalom, bushes lining the exterior of the sanctuary were burned, although Curran said detectives believe the fire was set to burn down the synagogue's sign and not the entire building.

Curran said the vandal – described as a man wearing dark clothing – was caught on surveillance video about 1 a.m., but the images reveal no other distinguishing characteristics.

The incident is being investigated by the Sheriff's Department as well as the FBI, the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District's arson team and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Curran said.

Detectives will determine whether the act was a hate crime, and which agency will take the lead in the investigation, Curran said.

No suspects have been identified and no witnesses have been found, Curran said.

Congregation Beth Shalom was one of three Sacramento-area synagogues targeted by two arsonists in 1999. Benjamin Matthew Williams, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, and his brother, James Tyler Williams, pleaded guilty in September 2001 to setting the fires, which caused almost $3 million in damage.

They were sentenced to 30 years and 21 years and three months, respectively, in federal prison for the crimes.

Michael Alcalay, president of the temple, described Tuesday's vandalism as "hateful and heinous" and the perpetrator as a "hate monger."

By evening, the vandalism had been cleaned up and the congregation was ready to move on, Alcalay said.

"Unfortunately, in our society there is a segment of hate mongers. Luckily, it's a very small minority," he said. "Together we will once again will fight this hatred and … move our community forward."

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security

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