Vandalized Petaluma firm rewards 2 youth groups

It has been more than a year since an unknown vandal targeted Fishman Supply Company in Petaluma, setting two of its five trucks on fire and painting a third with an anti-Semitic message.

Now some good has come out of it.

The family-owned company, founded in 1967 by former chicken ranchers Saul and the late Rose Fishman, recently distributed more than $13,000 from a reward fund to two local youth organizations, the Healthy Community Consortium and the Petaluma Boys and Girls Club.

The fund had been set up following the March 15, 2000 attack with the help of concerned citizens throughout the Bay Area. It was originally designed to aid those who helped capture the perpetrator.

However, because no one was ever caught and the Petaluma Police Department had since suspended the case, "we decided to find an appropriate place for the money to go," said owner Leland Fishman, Saul's son.

Fishman said his family chose the two organizations because they both work toward the betterment of youth by "providing programs that keep kids off the street" and "teaching tolerance."

The Healthy Community Consortium, for instance, used some of the funds to take a diverse group of teens "from all walks of life" to Occidental for a team-building seminar and ropes course.

Members of the Fishman family — Saul, Leland and his three brothers, and their wives and children — were "shocked and dumbstruck," when they learned of the arson and vandalism incident.

Tipped off by a neighbor, Leland Fishman arrived at the business around 9:30 p.m. to find firefighters spraying two blazing trucks. The words "Die Jew" and a heart with an apostrophe "s" — meaning "Die Jew lovers" — had been painted on the third.

"We just didn't know why or how this could happen," he said. One truck was totally destroyed in the fire and cost the Fishmans between $25,000 and $30,000.

But even more surprising than the blow to their business was the community's outpouring of support afterward, Leland Fishman said.

"I think people wanted us to see that they're against racial intolerance and bigotry, that they're not going to take this kind of thing here."

Despite being a home to Jews since the 1800s, Petaluma, he said, had a history filled with intolerance, with an active Nazi Party in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

"Tolerance of Jews has never been something you can take for granted here," Leland Fishman said. "But as we saw after last March, it's certainly alive and well."

In fact, following the incident, the Healthy Community Consortium organized a multicultural service in Fishman Supply's honor at St. James Church in Petaluma. The service attracted an interfaith crowd of 400 and featured a number of speakers including Rabbi Leah Sudran of Petaluma's Conservative Congregation B'nai Israel.

"We were just in awe," said Leland Fishman, whose family has resided in Petaluma since 1918.

As for the perpetrators, "We have our suspicions and the police have theirs, but there's really no way to prove anything," he said. He added that he did not think this was an actual hate crime since the trucks were parked behind the Fishman's building on the 1300 block of Industrial Avenue, "where no one could see them," rather than out in the open.

"It seemed as if this were more of a vandalism. It didn't smell of a hate crime," he said.

Since then, the business has had no vandalism problems, other than an occasional stolen car battery.

Sgt. Joey Evans of the Petaluma Police Department confirmed the lack of evidence, adding that "as bad as it is," the case is "at this point" suspended.

"Even with the reward money, no one came forward," he said. "Unfortunately that's common in these types of cases."