The tires of three cars parked at the South Huntington (L.I.) Jewish Center were slashed while their owners attended pre-High Holy Day services Saturday night, and a few hours later in Centereach, L.I., other vandals scrawled swastikas and anti-Semitic and anti-black epithets on a public school.
The two incidents in Suffolk County came even as Jewish institutions throughout the metropolitan area were increasing security on the eve of the High Holy Days. And to allay the concerns of Hebrew school students at Temple Beth Chai in Hauppauge (where an early morning arson fire Aug. 15 destroyed the synagogue office) youngsters were invited to a special meeting with the police and two counselors from the Federation Employment and Guidance Service.
"Parents said that some children were concerned about coming back into the building," said Rabbi Laurence Bazer, the congregation’s spiritual leader. "We wanted to be proactive and calm any fears before school starts next Tuesday."
Det. Sgt. Robert Reecks of the Suffolk County Police Bias Unit was accompanied by a uniformed officer. He said he too wanted to "reassure parents and children that the temple is safe and is not a target of any particular group."
He pointed out that no one has claimed responsibility for the arson fire and that "we’re not getting anybody bragging about it" on the street.
Rabbi Bazer said the damaged office has been rebuilt and that all traces of the fire in the rest of the building were removed: prayer shawls were cleaned, ceiling tiles and carpeting replaced and the walls painted.
Reecks said that because there was no anti-Semitic graffiti left at the Conservative South Huntington Jewish Center in Melville, the tire slashing could not be considered an anti-Semitic act. But synagogue’s president, Ed Rudolsky, said those congregants whose tires were slashed viewed it differently.
"There is a sense that this happened because they were Jews attending a service," he said. "We can’t prove it, but it is part of the feeling [they have] and that has made it much worse for them."
Rudolsky said each of the three cars targeted was parked in a remote area of the parking lot and that two tires on each car were slashed sometime shortly before midnight Saturday while Selichot services were being held. He said the incident occurred just as the synagogue was preparing to beef up security for the High Holy Days because of the arson attack in Hauppauge.
As part of that upgraded security, he said plans called for better lighting in the parking lot and the hiring of a security guard to patrol the grounds seven days a week.
"We have had a security guard on the High Holy Days to check tickets at the door and last year we hired another one to control traffic," said Rudolsky. "But they were not serving a security function and were not in uniform. They will be in uniform this year and we will have 24-hour security guards."
Asked what he had learned from the tire-slashing incident, Rudolsky said: "It reminds us that we are Jews, that this has happened throughout our history and that we have to deal with it. … Hopefully this is a short-term thing and the copy cats and anti-Semites will go away."
In Centereach, swastikas were etched into 70 plastic windows in the rear of the Dawnwood Middle School early Sunday morning, and anti-Semitic and anti-black graffiti was painted on the rear of the 1,200-student building. One of the slurs was directed at a former assistant principal of the school, who was Jewish, according to published reports.
It was the latest in a series of bias crimes in Centereach this year.
"It’s tragic," said Middle Country School District Acting Superintendent Connie Lorthridge. "I’m dismayed and saddened. … We’re not immune in our community to incidents that have happened across Long Island, the state and the nation. But nobody wants their community to be seen in this light."
She said teachers and administrators were briefed Tuesday about what happened and that teachers were encouraged to speak about it in their homerooms when school began Wednesday. In addition, she said it was to be discussed in opening assemblies.
"We want to get the school year off well, yet we will not avoid this issue," said Lorthridge. "We want to let the student know that we don’t accept this behavior in any of our buildings and that as adults we are distressed by it."
She noted also that security at the 10,200-student district (the third largest suburban district in the state) was immediately increased.
"We want our students to be safe," said Lorthridge. "We received many phone calls from parents and did our best to assure them that their children will be safe."
She said she had received a phone call from the ADL and would be considering what type of programming could be introduced to teach the children tolerance and appreciation of diversity. She noted that there are only a small number of Jews and blacks in the district.
Lorthridge added that in recent years the Police Anti-Bias Unit has conducted assemblies at the school and that a BOCES program was held dealing with conflict resolution and peer mediation.
Phyllis Barell, the ADL’s Long Island regional director, said her organization was last in the school in March 1994 to conduct one-hour assembly programs dealing with diversity and tolerance. She noted that there have been other bias incidents in Centereach this year, including the apparent racially motivated beating of a black man and his white friend recently by a white mob at a local bar. In addition, she said a 12-year-old received a series of anti-Semitic phone calls at home that in February were traced to another student; anti-Semitic slurs that used a Jewish studentís name were found in January in two bathrooms at Centereach High; and last month, two persons were accosted and called anti-gay names.
Reecks said that recently two 15-year-olds were arrested for calling anti-Semitic remarks to a school official. The two were arrested.