Swastikas painted on Whittier synagogue

| October 20, 2009

WHITTIER – Vandals painted three swastikas on the front of Temple Beth Shalom over the weekend, but the incident is not being labeled a hate crime, Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said Monday.

"Not to diminish the painting of a swastika on the synagogue, but it looks like it was just some punk kids who did this," said Sgt. Craig Harman of the sheriff's Norwalk Station.

A spokeswoman for the Pacific Southwest office of the Anti-Defamation League called it a "definite hate incident." However, Alison Mayersohn of the ADL agreed that she would not label the incident a hate crime.

"It's always alarming when a swastika is painted on a Jewish institution," said Mayersohn. "For it to be labeled a hate crime, there would have to be specific intent by the perpetrators to target a Jewish institution because it is Jewish."

Sheriff's officials said they believe the vandalism occurred between late Friday and early Saturday.

Herb Sussman, a board member of Beth Shalom, agreed it was not anti-semitic.

"Graffiti has popped up here before, and it's been gang-related," he said.

The previous incident occurred eight years ago, Sussman said.

The Sheriff's Department Hate Crime Investigation Unit has been notified of the weekend vandalism.

"They are always apprised of such incidents," Harman said. The unit keeps a database to track patterns.

"There have been no other incidents (recently) involving churches or the synagogue located in La Mirada, which is also in our coverage area," Harman said.

However, vandals shot out two windows and a glass door at the Muslim Community Services Inc. mosque over a two-day period in August 2006.

FBI officials determined the vandalism was not the result of a hate crime.

Along with the swastikas painted on the north side of the main building at Temple Beth Shalom, which faces the football field at California High School, there were groups of letters – WS and NWS.

"They could refer to gangs, but more than likely a tagging group," Harman said.

A tree, the front curb and a tarp covering a gate had some painting – mostly random letters.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1931, was established to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all, according to its Web site.

Statistics compiled by ADL in 2008 show anti-semitic occurrences increased slightly in Los Angeles County compared with the previous year. Anti-semitic occurrences slightly decreased nationwide in 2008.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office does not keep statistics on hate crimes, said spokeswoman Jane Robison.

"Unless an actual arrest is made and a case filed, we don't have numbers," she said. "A lot of the time, no one is arrested."

Robison said she could not classify it as a hate crime because the case has not been presented to the District Attorney's Office.

Beth Shalom is a progressive, conservative synagogue serving the communities of Whittier, La Mirada, Norwalk, the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, and North Orange County.

It was founded in 1951 by a community of 100 Jewish families in Whittier.

"It's a disturbing symbol and occurrence," Sussman said of the swastika. "It represents the Nazis."

He expects to have the offensive symbols painted over soon.

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security