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Swastikas Found Near Synagogue in West Orange

On Shabbat Parshat Vayechi, December 18, three swastikas were drawn on the sidewalk on the Pleasant Valley Way side of B’nai Shalom in West Orange. Joggers reported the markings to the West Orange Police Department (WOPD), and scuffed out part of the drawings with their shoes in an effort to wipe away the ugliness.

The responding officers immediately notified the sheriff who was stationed in front of the synagogue, and they surveyed the property, as well as that of other Jewish buildings in town. No additional symbols or drawings were discovered.

Rabbi Robert Tobin, spiritual leader of B’nai Shalom, and the synagogue’s executive director, Gary Rothschild, spoke with West Orange Police Chief James Abbott, who assured them the township and police department were working to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

In the state of New Jersey, graffiti such as this constitutes both a hate crime and a crime of bias intimidation, and the West Orange Police Department is investigating it as such.

Abbott, on Sunday, December 19, sent an email to the leaders of the township’s Jewish institutions, saying in part, “Once the evidence was properly recorded the WODPW (West Orange Department of Public Works) was recalled for removal of this offensive and vile insignia. In observance of your Sabbath, I delayed this notification until this morning. The WOPD will be checking your houses of worship frequently and will do everything within our power to effect an arrest for this crime.”

Also on Sunday, the township put out a formal statement that said in part: “In the strongest terms possible Mayor Robert D. Parisi, Council President Cindy Matute-Brown, Councilwoman Michelle Casalino, Councilwoman Susan McCartney, Councilman Bill Rutherford, and Councilwoman Tammy Williams along with the entire West Orange Municipal Government stand resolute with all residents in denouncing the cowardly acts of hate perpetrated against our Jewish brothers and sisters. Acts of antisemitism or bias attacks against any faction of our society, whether physical, verbal, or symbolic will not be tolerated in West Orange.

“Such heinous and despicable actions against any one group or individual is considered an attack against us all and our deeply rooted community values. Neighborly love, unwavering unity, and mutual respect will rule the day as West Orange will continue to set the standard in always recognizing cultural diversity as our impregnable strength. Those of our residents who bore witness to the Holocaust and the sacrifice of our World War II Veterans are the enduring legacy of our fight against this specific bigotry today.”

In the aftermath of the crime, the synagogue increased its security measures, and the WOPD increased its patrols around the property and other Jewish institutions in the community. The township’s other synagogues increased their security measures as well.

Rabbi Tobin, in a letter to congregants, stated: “In the days ahead I will reach out to the township’s leaders and other faith leaders in the area to join in a single voice of condemnation and solidarity with us. We know that hate has no place here, and that we are not alone.”

Rabbi Tobin joined with the other synagogue rabbis in West Orange in drafting a letter to the members of the township’s Jewish community, noting: “As rabbis of synagogue buildings in West Orange, we join together with the entire community to condemn this act of antisemitism.

“We know that our Jewish community is vibrant and strong, and remains a wonderful place to live our Jewish lives and to raise our families. We are grateful to have the unwavering support of the West Orange Police Department, our Town Council and Mayor.

“In the days ahead we welcome the voices of support that we will receive from our friends and neighbors, and remain convinced that this incident does not accurately reflect the reality of our lives in this town that we love so much.”

Governor Phil Murphy tweeted on Tuesday, December 21: “I am appalled that swastikas were recently drawn outside a synagogue in West Orange, at Westfield High School, and at Marlton Middle School. We will not let antisemitism or hatred go unchallenged here in New Jersey, and we will hold those behind these despicable acts responsible.”

Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-5) weighed in on Wednesday, tweeting: “Disgusted to learn about the three swastikas drawn outside of Temple B’nai Shalom. These vile and un-American acts of antisemitism have no place in our community, and I stand strongly in support of NJ’s Jewish community as this incident is investigated.”

It was reported that Congresswoman Mikie Sherill (D-11) contacted Rabbi Tobin after the incident to offer her support.

“We were very saddened to see this and grateful it was quickly discovered and removed,” Parisi shared with The Jewish Link. “Our Township will never tolerate this hateful behavior and we always stand together with our neighbors in defiance of bigotry.”

On Tuesday, December 21, Rabbi Tobin reported that West Orange Police had obtained footage of the perpetrator of the hate crime, who was described as riding a motorcycle to the corner of the synagogue’s property and deliberately drawing the swastikas in that spot. Rabbi Tobin shared an image of the person to his personal blog, and has urged anyone with information to contact police. 

By Jill Kirsch


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