Arson / hate crime

The Santa Cruz Police Department is investigating whether a case of arson that occurred in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 5, at the Santa Cruz Hillel Foundation could be a hate crime.

Burning newspapers were placed into the mail slot of the building at around 3 a.m., according to Rabbi Shalom Bochner, executive director of the Santa Cruz Hillel Foundation.

A customer shopping at a 7-Eleven next door noticed the fire and immediately notified the convenience store’s staff. Several of them poured water through the mail slot, extinguishing the fire before the fire department arrived.

A couch and carpet were burned, in addition to the ash and debris from the burning newspapers.

Hours earlier, some 70 students had gathered there to celebrate the school year’s final Shabbat with services and dinner.

In order to determine whether it is a hate crime, “we have to identify suspects to do that,” said Santa Cruz Police Department Detective Sgt. Mike Pruger.

Two people who were spotted outside the Hillel building bought food at 7-Eleven and, therefore, were videotaped by the store’s security camera. On Monday, June 7, Pruger said the photos of the potential suspects would be broadcast on television.

By Wednesday, June 9, the suspects’ photographs had been posted in Santa Cruz.

Noting that damage was minimal only because “bystanders stopped it before it got out of hand,” Pruger said, “We’re taking it very seriously.”

While the U.C. Santa Cruz campus has had its share of anti-Israel activity, Bochner has never experienced any anti-Semitic harassment. The last time anything happened at the Hillel building, which is near the campus, a small swastika was carved into the paint of the logo on the glass door three years ago. At the time, Bochner thought it was probably the act of a teenager.

“This is mostly a peace-loving community, and there’s no reason to assume this was hate motivated,” said Bochner. On the other hand, he said, “there’s a lot of disagreement on campus about Israeli policy, and anger about it that has been taken out on local Jews, as if we’re responsible.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."