A week after unknown assailants spray-painted swastikas on 26 cars in Marine Park under cover of night, a high-visibility community forum sponsored by the Brooklyn neighborhood’s political officials (including both New York U.S. senators, Rep. Anthony Weiner, state and city representatives and the borough president’s office) is taking a stand against bias.
The Town Hall meeting that was to be held Thursday at the Kings Bay Y was being seen as more than a reaction to the anti-Semitic scrawlings in a neighborhood with a small Jewish population.
Observers say it is another sign of the continuing emotional fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and concern over the attempted arson two weeks ago at a synagogue in the Sheepshead Bay section.
"The [Marine Park] community is on edge," said Rabbi Bob Kaplan, director of intergroup relations and community concerns at the Jewish Community Relations Council.
He said that such a forum, coordinated on short notice with support by all of the neighborhood’s political representatives and the Police Department, reflects a heightened anxiety in New York City since 9-11.
The vandalism is being investigated by the Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force. The Anti-Defamation League and several politicians have offered rewards for information leading to the perpetrators’ arrest: standard procedures when anti-Semitism is suspected.
When one group is attacked, all of New York feels vulnerable, Rabbi Kaplan said.
"The nation is on war footing" before an expected war against Iraq. "We are on war footing locally," he said. "Especially after 9-11, anything like this [attack] is considered more important" and potentially more of a threat than in the past.
The swastikas were discovered a week after a Muslim immigrant from Bosnia was caught trying to set fire to the Young Israel of Kings Bay.
Police patrols were increased in the affected neighborhoods, Rabbi Kaplan said.
With no message left at the scene of the swastikas by the vandals, and no arrests announced yet, the rabbi said he could not guess who the perpetrators or their targets were, or their motivation.
"History shows that they are generally teens," Rabbi Kaplan said.
Joel Levy, the ADL’s New York regional director, said until the vandals are caught, "we will not understand."
The crime is especially puzzling because it occurred in an ethnically mixed neighborhood that is primarily Catholic, with a growing number of Orthodox Jews and Jewish emigres from the former Soviet Union in recent years.
"It was a very ugly, hateful incident," Levy said. "It’s clearly a mixed neighborhood … a very stable neighborhood. It’s a message of hate to everyone. Everyone is very upset."
The ADL was a sponsor of the community forum, which was initiated by Weiner.
In a prepared statement, Weiner called the vandalism "deeply troubling.
"[The] acts constitute a hateful blow directed at … people of good will throughout Brooklyn, New York City and the Jewish community at large," said the Democratic congressman, who represents Brooklyn and Queens.
In a Jewish Week interview Tuesday, Weiner said the vandalism, which followed the Sheepshead Bay attack, and a recent attack on a local church has worried citizens and politicians.
"If it were an individual case, it might not have gotten this much attention," he said. "There is definitely a heightened sensitivity about racial tension post-9-11."
The symbolism of swastikas is particularly troublesome to Jews who live in Marine Park, Weiner said.
"Swastikas in a Jewish neighborhood transcend the actual damage done," he said.
The ADL offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.
State Sen. Carl Kruger, Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein and City Councilman Lewis Fidler each announced $500 rewards.
Anyone with information about the attacks should call the police at (800) 577-TIPS.
The investigation by the Hate Crimes Task Force, another sponsor of the forum, indicates that the vandalism is considered a bias crime, said a department spokesman.