ADL offers reward in anti-Semitic graffiti incident

The ADL is offering $2,000 to help catch whoever scrawled anti-Semitic messages on Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City.

The graffiti, including a swastika (drawn backward) and the words "Nazi ya!" was discovered Sunday morning but remained on the building until Wednesday. The temple's rabbi, Nathaniel Ezray, said he decided to preserve the red markings dirtying a window of the social hall and a wall outside the chapel in order to help congregants process a response and "return to a sense of calm."

Redwood City police are investigating the incident as a hate crime but currently have no leads.

"The police are taking this very seriously and have remained in regular contact with us," said Ezray, adding that he has gratefully received an "overwhelming amount of support" from Jewish agencies and leaders throughout the Bay Area.

Still, seeing that "this sort of ignorance still exists, and that a home of worship could be treated with such disdain," filled Ezray with a mix of emotions.

"A piece of me is angry. A piece of me is cautious. I don't know if this is really a hate crime or nothing more than some kids who wanted to get a rise out of us."

Whether hate-motivated or otherwise, such incidents typically create a strong psychological impact on the victim, said Jonathan Bernstein, Anti-Defamation League regional director. That is why the Central Pacific region of the ADL believes it is important for police and educators to make it clear "to youth in particular, that this is a serious matter."

Though Bernstein said it is uncommon for perpetrators of such acts to be caught, the ADL does remain hopeful that the reward fund will strengthen the effort. He said this is particularly true in cases in which youth are suspected because "kids often like to brag about this type of thing with their friends" and the "money might motivate" one of them to come forward.

The reward, as well as the possible arrest and conviction of the vandal or vandals, will also send a strong message "that these crimes are not acceptable in our community," he said.

But the $2,000 will only be rewarded if the tip "leads to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator," he added.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Redwood City Police Department directly at (650) 780-7100.

In the meantime, Ezray will discuss "upgrading" the Conservative synagogue's security measures with the board of directors, "even though those [in operation] are already pretty high."

And while he intends to address the security measures, Ezray said: "There is a sense that we're stronger than this. We know that this was wrong and this was terrible, but we're not going to live in fear."

Sunday's incident was not the first to plague the congregation. In 1979, Temple Beth Jacob was almost entirely rebuilt after an arsonist destroyed most of the building. To this day, that case remains unsolved.

In the mid-1980s the building was twice defaced by anti-Semitic graffiti — once by an Aryan resistance group and then by a disgruntled employee.

Those past incidents contributed to Ezray's decision to turn the most recent one into something positive and leave the graffiti on the walls for a few days.

"I especially wanted the kids to see it in person because I know they've heard about it," he said. "This way they could give their personal reaction and it would help them overcome this."

Monday night, for instance, he took his seventh-grade religious-school class on a tour of the graffiti and encouraged them to talk about what they saw. Then the students wrote individual prayers in which they were instructed to "envision a world without hate stereotypes."

The activity was intended to help his students conquer "any feelings of vulnerability" caused by the incident, while encouraging them "to continue to pray and study as Jews" even when targeted by anti-Semites.