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The Swastika Dance

The Swastika Dance

If you work in Jewish journalism long enough, certain stories begin to look like Mad Libs: Blocks of fixed text in which only the particulars are rearranged.

Examples: ______ calls for the release of Jonathan Pollard. ________'s remarks about Hitler cause an uproar.

_________'s proposed budget cuts are a disaster for Jewish social service agencies. Mayor/Gov./Sen. _______ (or all of the above) to visit Israel as election nears.

But perhaps the biggest Swiss cheese stories are the swastikas. In nearly 20 years at The Jewish Week and a brief stint before that at JTA, I must have covered several dozen of them, either isolated incidents or sprees.

Each time, the story is virtually the same. A poor synagogue leader, homeowner or business owner sets about his day only to have it ruined by the malicious vandalism, almost always in black spraypaint and sometimes accompanied by hateful graffiti, as if the Nazi symbol associated with the attempted eradication of the Jews wasn't enough to make a point.

We fill in the blanks of what neighborhood was hit, whether there are any clues or lead; What reward, if any is being offered for tips and whether the defacement hit a school, shop, sidewalk or as in the stories in the news this week, shuls, libraries and cars. Then there is the ADL press release.

Occasionally, the vandals reveal themselves pathetically to be not only bigoted and malicious but dumb to boot, leaving misspellings in the graffiti or painting the swastika backward.

The next step in the dance is for politicians to gather at the scene with a gaggle of news cameras and a podium and line up to compete for the sound-bite that will make that evening's news .

As cynical as I sound, they're doing the right thing: If elected officials aren't loud and clear on the record about their intolerance for intolerance, what good are they? But sadly, the frequent by-product of these press conferences are copycat swastikas, when people who crave attention or have some petty grievance to express take note of the level of public outcry. Like celebrity deaths, these incidents always tend to come in bundles, and that's likely no coincidence. When suspects are caught they are rarely tied to any extremist movements but often turn out to be punks looking for a cheap thrill.

The press conferences are no solution, but neither is keeping silent. Only a fool could believe that ignoring thugs will make them go away or behave. Programs that teach tolerance in schools, like chicken soup, can't hurt but it's likely they are mostly preaching to the converted.

So that leaves us with the unfortunate, perpetual swastika dance; and pretty much guarantees that I'm in for a few dozen more cases of filling in the blanks before I call it a career.

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