Hate crimes against Jews continued across the nation this week even as political leaders from New York’s City Hall to the White House were promising stepped-up protection and renewed attempts to push tougher anti-hate and gun control laws.
The moves come in response to the shootings at a Los Angeles-area Jewish community center in which five people were wounded, including a 5-year-old boy and two 6-year-olds.
But while several national Jewish organizations sponsored emergency security briefings via satellite hookups with dozens of local Jewish agencies nationwide, more anti-Jewish incidents were taking place only days after the Aug. 10 rampage by a white supremacist with an assault weapon at the North Valley JCC in Granada Hills, Calif.
In Hauppauge, L.I., Temple Beth Chai was firebombed early Sunday morning, damaging a basement office in the Suffolk County synagogue. In Nassau County, police bolstered patrols at synagogues.
A spate of anti-Jewish graffiti was reported in the last week. But now, acts that had been considered mere vandalism were being seen in a new fearful light by edgy Jewish leaders.
The new incidents include:
n Swastikas were found Monday at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., marring the return of students to the site of the April 20 rampage where 12 students and a teacher were gunned down by classmates.
n In Brooklyn, three incidents were reported. In the Midwood section, a swastika and the words “You’re Dead Jews” were spray-painted at the corner of Avenue I and East 21st at 8:20 a.m. Aug. 12. Two hours later, the side window of a private home at East 23rd Street and Avenue J was spray-painted with a swastika.
The next day, “Hitler Lives” was spray-painted on the side of the Marine Park Jewish Center on Avenue S, said 63rd Precinct Capt. Daniel Ruffle. He said he immediately increased patrols of the half-dozen Jewish institutions in the South Brooklyn precinct.
On Tuesday, police arrested a 15-year-old boy in the Midwood incident, charging him with felony criminal mischief and aggravated harassment. The teen, whose name was withheld, was released to his father. Some politicians decried his quick release.
n In Hollywood, Calif., a swastika and the words “Jews die” were spray-painted Saturday at Temple Knesset Israel, about 10 miles from the North Valley JCC.
Federal authorities revealed this week that the man charged in the JCC rampage, Buford O. Furrow, originally had targeted three other Los Angeles Jewish institutions for attack: the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance, the Skirball Cultural Center and the University of Judaism, the Conservative movement’s West Coast academic arm. But Furrow — who has ties to white supremacist groups such as the Aryan Nation — reportedly told the FBI he was scared away by the tight security at those buildings. Furrow, 37, said he happened upon the more vulnerable JCC while at a nearby gas station.
Along with the three young day campers, Furrow also wounded a teenage counselor and a 68-year-old receptionist. The one-time Washington state resident said his act was “a wake-up call for Americans to kill Jews.” Furrow confessed to killing a Filipino-American mail carrier while fleeing the JCC shootings.
On Monday, children were greeted with hugs and performing clowns upon their return to the JCC. Five police squad cars were stationed outside the building and uniformed security officers stood guard. Bullet holes were filled and shattered glass replaced from the destruction caused by Furrow firing 70 rounds into the lobby.
“We are not going to let a monster like that stop us,” said Jeffrey Rouss, executive vice president of the 12 JCCs in the Los Angeles area.
Furrow has been charged with attempted murder in the JCC shootings. Federal prosecutors charged him with murder in the killing of Joseph Ileto.
The most seriously injured in the JCC attack, 5-year-old Benjamin Kadish, was upgraded from critical to serious condition Monday at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. He had been shot in the abdomen and leg. The other four victims — 6-year-olds Joshua Stepakoff and James Zidell; Mindy Finkelstein, 16; and Isabelle Shalometh, 68 — have been released from the hospital.
On Sunday, a Unity Rally at California State University at Northridge attracted about 1,000 people. Speakers included U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and California Gov. Gray Davis, who called for stricter gun control. Davis was heckled by Jewish Defense League head Irv Rubin, who said Jews must be able to arm themselves against their enemies.
The new wave of incidents occurred as both President Clinton and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, among others, held special private meetings with Jewish leaders last week to show their concern.
Giuliani, during a press conference at City Hall following a 45-minute meeting with about 25 Jewish officials, promised increased police — “both visible and invisible” — at Jewish synagogues and yeshivas for the High Holy Days next month. He also said he would increase intelligence gathering.
Giuliani, a Republican, also called for the Republican-controlled state Senate to stop stonewalling and pass a strong hate crimes bill with greater penalties. He said the bill should include protection of gays, which some Republicans have consistently opposed. The Democratic-controlled Assembly has approved a bill.
Police Commissioner Howard Safir said at the press conference that his department had no evidence of any organized hate groups operating here. But groups that track neo-Nazis and hate groups disputed Safir’s assertion.
“The fact is, the organized hate groups are organizing in New York,” said Ed Sedarbaum, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New York regional office. “They have Post Office boxes, they receive mail, they have contact points, they leaflet every borough, every neighborhood.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, said six extremist groups were operating in New York City of 13 in the state.
Safir, meanwhile, said that reported hate crimes have decreased in the city from the same period last year. Bias crimes from January to August of this year dropped 19 percent and anti-Semitic crimes were down 31 percent.
Police spokeswoman Marilyn Mode later told The Jewish Week that the anti-Semitic figure dropped from 100 to 69 cases and overall reported bias cases fell from 311 to 251.
Regarding the mayor’s comments of increasing High Holy Days police protection, Mode said, “We never discuss specifics.”
Several New York Jewish leaders praised Giuliani for his speedy response to their concerns.
“By us, this [shootings] brings a shiver through our community — we have so many Holocaust survivors,” said Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. “He [Giuliani] told us to go on with our regular activities.
Clinton told a group of 29 national Jewish organization heads that he needed their help to push for tougher gun control and federal hate crime laws during a 90-minute meeting in the Cabinet room attended by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.
“I think he [Clinton] recognized that hate crimes were proliferating and this was not just an occasional occurrence at this point,” said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
On gun control, Epstein said Clinton “felt we could play a role in galvanizing our people in the grassroots to be just as forceful as are the people from the NRA.”
One participant told The Jewish Week that Clinton said “the NRA runs the House and nearly runs the Senate.”
In turn, the president was asked to use his bully pulpit to rally the American people on gun control and hate crime laws, and to call for more monitoring of hate groups, said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
“The president was sympathetic to this and he said that he would look into it personally,” Rabbi Yoffie said.
Rabbi Yoffie said Clinton recommended the Jewish community join together with other minorities and Christian groups to battle hate.
Clinton was also reportedly intrigued by the hate-blocking Internet software recently developed on behalf of the ADL.
On Tuesday, the ADL and the United Jewish Communities convened a satellite broadcast on Jewish security issues for Jewish institution heads.
At the 90-minute briefing, attended by about 30 people at UJA-Federation headquarters in Manhattan, FBI New York office assistant director Louis Schrillo, former city Police Commissioner Robert McGuire and Foxman answered questions about boosting building security and hiring private guards. They stressed going to local police departments with specific needs.
In a poignant moment, an officer from Hauppauge’s Temple Beth Chai asked the experts how to select a private security firm.
Meanwhile, there was a marked increase in security at some New York-area Jewish centers. In Whippany, N.J., two armed guards began patrolling the MetroWest Jewish Center, according to member Susanne Warech.
In the Philadelphia area, heightened security greeted young Jewish athletes gathered Sunday for the Maccabi Games, a four-day Olympic-style competition expected to draw 1,400 competitors.
Guards, many armed and wearing yellow shirts, were highly visible on the grounds and on the roof of the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, N.J.
“It’s very unfortunate that I can’t tell my child that this is a safe world that we live in,” said Leslie Cohen, whose 15-year-old daughter is a Maccabi Games competitor.
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