|Temple Beth El on Summit Ave. in Hackensack was defaced by vandals early Wednesday morning. It was the second time in two weeks that an area
synagogue was attacked in this way. Speculation is that the same person or group is responsible for both incidents. Staff photo
Just one week after a similar incident in Maywood, a Hackensack synagogue has been spray-painted with swastikas and slogans of hate.
According to Mark Zettler, president of Temple Beth-El, the vandalism was discovered at the Summit Ave. synagogue on Wednesday morning by the shul secretary, Joanne Rose.
“She called me and I told her to call the police,” said Zettler. “Then I went down to the temple.”
The president of the shul, which has some 110 congregants, said the police came immediately, although it appeared that the first officer on the scene had not heard about the incident in Maywood. “The police were very responsive,” he said. “Everybody was sympathetic.”
Zettler also called the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
“I’m appalled that this has once again occurred,” said Joy Kurland, director of the JCRC. Especially, she added, “since we just celebrated a wonderful solidarity event last night in a neighboring town [Maywood] to address this kind of hatred.”
Kurland said she thinks these incidents “really warrant a greater communal response,” noting, “We have to talk through how Hackensack can address this.”
Pointing out that the Maywood community, as a whole, rallied to condemn the desecration of its local synagogue, she said the JCRC has offered its services to help the Hackensack synagogue reach out to the community, as well.
Etzion Neuer, director of community service and policy/deputy director of the ADL, said, “We are deeply troubled by a repeat attack on a Jewish place of worship in the Bergen County area.”
Added Neuer: “At a time when the Jewish community should be celebrating the joyous festival of Chanukah, instead they find themselves cleaning spray-painted symbols of hatred off of their place of worship.”
Neuer said the ADL is also deeply concerned by the references to white supremacist symbols and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.
“While graffitied swastikas are often the work of malicious juveniles rather than extremists, the appearance of ’14/88′ strongly suggests an extremist connection on the part of the vandal(s).”
Zettler, a longtime resident of Hackensack and now in his third term as synagogue president, said he and Robert Schumeister, rabbi of the congregation, are drafting an e-mail to members of the synagogue, which they will follow up with a letter.
Calling the incident “distressing,” Schumeister noted that while he had seen minor vandalism at the synagogue before, “It was random, not anti-Semitic or of a hate nature.”
The rabbi said that the incident might have something to do with the Christmas season, rather than with Chanukah, since the Maywood incident occurred before the Jewish holiday. If so, he said, “It’s a real paradox. The world talks about peace [at this time], not acts of hate.”
Zettler said the ADL, as it did with the Maywood synagogue, told the Hackensck shul to re-evaluate its security procedures, something the synagogue will address as soon as possible.
In their letter to congregants, said Zettler, “We will tell them that while is unfortunate and disturbing, it should not for one instant make us fearful or [make us] change anything in our daily lives.” To do so, he said, would hand a victory to the perpetrators.
“It’s a small group of people that do all this damage, and we just can’t let us get the best of us,” he said, pointing out that while some people apparently do not like Jews, there are other groups that are targeted as well.
“It’s beyond unfortunate,” he said. “It’s wrong, senseless, and divisive, especially in a place like Hackensack, which is more diverse and accepting than any other town in Bergen County.”
The synagogue’s next step, he said, will be to speak to local government agencies and to the federation, since “These circumstances are new to me and to the board, rabbi, and members. It will take some quick thinking and wise planning so that congregants and the neighborhood and town can continue to feel safe and go about their daily lives.”