Vandalism against synagogue unites community

| August 19, 2010

Hours after police discovered anti-Semitic graffiti spray-painted on B'Nai Shalom of Olney on July 26, about 200 community members showed up with buckets, sponges and graffiti remover to scour it off.

And they kept returning.

Attendance at the evening service, typically about 10 to 15 people, swelled to about 500, said Debbie Kovalsky, the synagogue's president. Motivated by the outpouring of support, including calls from clergy representing local faith communities with condolences and offers to help, the Saturday Shabbat service was opened to the public.

"We decided to plan something that included reaching out to clergy and other houses of worship to see if they'd like to be included, and they very graciously came together with our Rabbi Ari Sunshine," she said.

Six hundred to 650 congregants and members of the Olney community came together days after the swastikas, neo-Nazi markings and slurs in English and German that had defaced the temple, light posts and parking lot were painted over. Olney resident Ian J. Barron, 22, was arrested and charged in the acts of vandalism.

The Rev. Sue Shorb-Sterling of Salem United Methodist Church in Brookeville, who attended the Saturday service with some of her parishioners, said she was appalled and called immediately when she heard about the vandalism on the news.

"One of the benefits that came out of this is that the clergy of the Olney area wants to gather together and create a support system," she said. "Following the worship service, we . . . went over a list of questions. We talked about what we'd like to understand about another faith tradition other than our own and if we can envision praying together."

Attendants filled seats and filed along the sides of the synagogue and listened as Israeli Ambassador Michael B. Oren recalled how his temple being bombed when he was a teenager had left him devastated. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) addressed the congregation and said the state of Maryland will not stand for bigotry or racism.

"It was a beautiful service, probably the most moving service I've ever attended in my life, and I go every week," Kovalsky said. "We had no idea that that many people were going to come, but people need to heal when something like this happens. To be alone is really tough, whatever you're grieving, whether it's death or an illness. To have so many people who care about you is a really powerful thing."

The religious leaders said they are hoping to create an interfaith council in Olney. They discussed uniting for a Thanksgiving worship service and a community project.

"I'm hoping that we can do something that would be an ongoing thing," Shorb-Sterling said

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security

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