Graffiti outrages Jewish community

Members feel targeted by hate symbol painted on synagogue door

Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Only days after celebrating the one-year anniversary of Juneau's lone synagogue, Sheryl Weinberg felt the complete opposite Monday when she first saw a swastika painted on the front door of the Jewish community's place of worship.

"I was very deeply saddened and outraged at the same time," said Weinberg, the president of the Congregation Sukkat Shalom board of directors.

The Juneau Police Department received several reports Monday morning of swastikas and graffiti at Cope Park downtown and in the Douglas Island neighborhood of the synagogue, on Cordova Street. Capt. Jerry Nankervis said there is no indication that the synagogue was specifically targeted because of the amount of graffiti in the area.

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"It doesn't mean that they're not. We just don't have any information that would lead us to believe that that is the case," he said.

Many of the swastikas were left-facing - a common symbol in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Right-facing swastikas are associated with Nazism.

The synagogue and other areas in the neighborhood were also spray painted with "PP4lyf," which Nankervis said he did not recognize.

Some members of the Jewish community feel targeted, Weinberg said.

"The fact that it was a swastika and that it was painted on the door of our synagogue speaks to a specific target," she said. "I think there would be irony to consider the possibility that it were random."

The police are investigating the incident, Nankervis said.

"It's fairly common that the kids will use symbols that will get attention," Nankervis said. "So they use stuff like pentagrams and swastikas."

The perpetrators got the full attention of Juneau's Jewish community.

Norman Cohen spent parts of Monday and Tuesday painting over the graffiti at the synagogue.

"I don't need to see this kind of stuff in Juneau," he said. "We got a town that everybody seems to get along in and we don't need this stuff in the city."

It was pretty discouraging to see a swastika painted on the synagogue's door, he said. Swastikas were the symbol of Germany's Nazi party, which murdered millions of Jews during the Holocaust in the 20th Century.

"It has a lot of baggage and obviously is a hate symbol," Cohen said.

The swastika on the synagogue brought back disturbing recollections of anti-Semitic graffiti downtown in 2001 for Jesse Kiehl.

"The messages of outrage that non-Jews expressed five years ago were very heartening and probably helped hold this type of behavior in check this long," he said. "We welcome the same message for our synagogue and the same condemnation of hate."

When the synagogue first opened its doors a year ago, its members considered not putting up a sign because of growing anti-Semitism across the globe, Weinberg said. A sign was put on the door and the congregation decided to use it as an opportunity for awareness if anything ever did happen.

"We want to be able to identify what kind of institution we have on our synagogue," she said.

The Jewish community wants to use the recent vandalism as a catalyst for a discussion of hate in the community, Kiehl said.

"Our community needs to take a hard look and we need to start talking with one another and working with one another to get to this root of this," he said.

Although the police and the Jewish community have not seen any signs of the organization of neo-Nazis or hate groups in Juneau, some are concerned there might be pockets of anti-Semitism in the community.

Mandy Schramm said she is not particularly worried for her safety in Juneau but said the recent vandalism does make her question strangers more.

"Most of the people I know have come to me and told me how horrible this is," she said. "It's people I don't know that I might not want to mention my faith. I might not want to let them know that I am a Jew."

The synagogue's board of directors met Tuesday night to discuss how it plans to address its anti-Semitic concerns and what actions to take in the community.

Schramm said she believes the community needs to tackle the issue head-on.

"I hope that we don't hide," she said. "My greatest fear is that the community will become quiet."

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