A swastika was found painted on Temple Sinai’s carved wooden door in Oakland, Oct. 18, 2020. (Photo/Courtesy Temple Sinai)
A swastika was found painted on Temple Sinai’s carved wooden door in Oakland, Oct. 18, 2020. (Photo/Courtesy Temple Sinai)

Temple Sinai hit with swastika, police investigating as hate crime

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UPDATE, Oct. 21, 6:30 p.m.: Oakland Police Department announced that it has arrested an individual responsible for a hate crime at Temple Sinai. The case is currently being reviewed by the district attorney, the police department said.

A swastika was discovered painted on the historic wooden sanctuary doors of Oakland’s Temple Sinai early Monday morning, Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin told J.

The graffiti was reported as a hate crime and is being investigated as such by the Oakland Police Department. It’s the latest incident of vandalism at the synagogue over the past few weeks in a series that went from paint splotches and strange drawings to the overtly antisemitic symbol.

The synagogue, located just off of Broadway close to downtown Oakland, dates back to 1914. “Our sanctuary is a historic landmark and the doors, we believe, are original,” Mates-Muchin said.

She said the synagogue is accustomed to dealing with regular tagging. “We’re urban,” she said, “so we’ve always had some graffiti.”

Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin
Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin

But the defacements of the past few weeks appeared to be more targeted. The carved Stars of David in the sanctuary doors have been vandalized twice before and daubed with paint, and Mates-Muchin said “a strange picture of a pig” was found on the grounds. This week’s incident was the first time the graffiti was explicitly antisemitic, she said.

“A swastika was right over a Jewish star,” she said.

The police have been looking through the synagogue’s security camera footage and are taking the incident very seriously, Mates-Muchin said.

“If you call and describe a hate crime, they make it high priority,” she said.

Antisemitic incidents are increasing in the U.S., according to a report released in May by the Anti-Defamation League. The findings included a 12 percent increase in the total number of antisemitic incidents in 2019 compared with the previous year, the highest since 1979. California had the third highest number, at 330 incidents.

Temple Sinai has been targeted before. On the morning of Rosh Hashanah in 2017, synagogue leaders arrived before services to find an obscene, antisemitic slur on the building. The situation was even more intense then, with the imminent arrival of 1,200 worshippers. This time fewer people saw the graffiti, Mates-Muchin said, but it still affected congregants, who were alerted to the news by email.

People write positive words on paper covering anti-Semitic graffiti at Temple Sinai in Oakland, Sept. 21, 2017. (Photo/Sue Fishkoff)
People write positive words on paper covering antisemitic graffiti at Temple Sinai in Oakland on Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 21, 2017. (Photo/Sue Fishkoff)

“I think a lot of people are feeling vulnerable,” she said. “I think this is one of a number of things that make people worry.”

An April study by the ADL found that more than half of American Jews have witnessed or experienced antisemitism over the past five years, and nearly two-thirds said they feel less safe than they did a decade ago.

For Mates-Muchin, the graffiti is a sobering reminder that much remains to be done to change the world for the better.

“I just think that none of us can be complacent about working very hard for the world we want to be living in,” she said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.