Hate Graffiti at Conejo Chabad Deemed Misdemeanor Vandalism

| July 28, 2010

When the two Chabad rabbis discovered Tuesday morning, July 27, that someone had spray-painted “Get Out of Oak Park” on the front wall of their small synagogue, they felt a sense of sorrow, rather than anger.

“I am hurt and pained,” said Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky. “This was triggered by a few neighbors and does not reflect the spirit of the Oak Park community.”

Rabbi Yisroel Levine agreed. “I don’t see this as an anti-Semitic act, I don’t want to raise an alarm,” he said.

Chabad of Oak Park was established as a small shtibl 15 years ago in the rustic Conejo Valley community of some 16,000 residents in what had been a private home on a quiet residential street.

Under Chabad’s conditional use permit, attendance was limited to 70 worshippers, but as the young families grew and hosted occasional visitors, space became tight and Chabad requested that legal occupancy be raised to 145, a figure deemed safe by the fire department.

Annual High Holiday and Simchat Torah services are held in a different location.

Chabad also asked for easing of parking restrictions at its mikveh, the only one in the Conejo Valley, addition of Sunday services, and use of a covered patio.

In a familiar Southern California scenario, some neighbors objected to Chabad’s requested “modifications,” which they saw as an expansion that would increase traffic and parking problems on their tranquil street. Chabad countered that the great majority of its members walked, rather than drove, to Shabbat services.

In a hearing three months ago, the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council approved most of Chabad’s requests, but the final decision is up to the Ventura County Planning Commission, which has set a public hearing for Thursday, July 29, in the city of Ventura.

The graffiti is under investigation by the Ventura County sheriff’s department, and the Ventura Star quoted Capt. Ross Bonfiglio as saying that if a perpetrator were identified, he would be charged with misdemeanor vandalism, but not with committing a hate crime.

On Tuesday, Harry Medved, a member and spokesman for Chabad of Oak Park, released a statement on behalf of Chabad of the Conejo, whose rabbi, Moshe Bryski, oversees the Oak Pak synagogue.

“Oak Park has been hospitable to our little ‘shul’ for more than 15 years…and the majority of our neighbors are truly supportive of Chabad’s presence in the community…as the only synagogue in the neighborhood,” the statement read in part.

“We look forward to happier days when we can work together on brighter projects.”

As part of its community relations effort, Chabad has organized a hiking club among its members, who regularly clean the trash on surrounding trails, Medved said, and plans to launch a Neighborhood Outreach Alliance to discuss and settle any problems and complaints.

Rabbi Bryski, as all other Chabad representatives, repeatedly stressed the excellent relations with the majority of Oak Park residents, and blamed the graffiti on the ill will aroused by a few “disgruntled neighbors.”

“We are part of the community, we will remain part of the community, and we will get through this,” he said.

Neighbors Brad and Lenore Lewis have opposed Chabad’s growth plans, but maintained the same civil tone in speaking to the Ventura Star.

Declaring they were “stunned” by the vandalism, the Lewises said that “We only want to maintain the small neighborhood shtibl we were promised. As Jews, we are doubly distressed that anyone would think of doing something like [the graffiti].”



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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security

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