Over the past two years, the number of hate crimes in New Jersey has remained fairly steady, says Etzion Neuer, the Anti-Defamation League’s Director of Community Service and Policy.

Still, said Neuer, “We always want to see it go down. There’s little consolation in seeing it be constant.”

Neuer pointed out that the ADL website maintains a visual database of hate symbols (adl.org/hatesymbols), used frequently by law enforcement agencies but accessible to the public, as well.

At a crime scene, he said, “These numerical and graphic symbols are critical indicators for law enforcement of just what they’re dealing with – much the same way as law enforcement learned that numbers scrawled on walls may indicate gang affiliation.”

Given the nature of the symbols scrawled on the Maywood synagogue, he said, “It’s fair to ask whether it indicates the presence of a hate group in the area.”

One symbol, 14/88, “is often used to indicate a belief both in the ideology of Nazism and the validity of the 14 words…that have become a rallying cry for the white supremacist movement,” said Neuer. The words, he said, are, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

That allusion is often used with the number 88, he said, “a well-known neo-Nazi designation for ‘Heil Hitler.'” “H,” he pointed out, is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

“The significance of those numbers, when coupled with the swastika, are powerful symbols of hatred,” he said. “They are shorthand, but it does indicate that the offenders were a little more knowledgeable of extremist ideology.”

“On the other hand,” he said, “they’re not complete secrets.”

So while there is a long history of hate groups in New Jersey and Bergen County – including, he said, American Third Position in Butler and the local Bergen County Hooligans – this does not necessarily indicate the presence of an organized group.

“We’re finding more and more with extremists that they are not necessarily affiliated with a particular group, but may still be committed as ‘lone wolves,'” said Neuer.

The ADL director said any time a Jewish institution is targeted with hatred, “It needs to be treated very seriously,” since its impact is felt not just by one group, but by the entire community.

“If there’s any consolation here, and we seek to find some comfort, [Maywood] has reacted very strongly and appropriately, and that should not be underestimated,” he said. While there may be some extremists or haters in the area, “We know definitely that the vast majority of residents there find it repulsive [and] have been outspoken in rejecting the message of hatred.”