Temple Hosts Vigil of Love

Lynn La Rocca     Hundreds turned out in support of Temple Israel after the building was vandalized with hate messages.

 

By chance, someone asked me last Tuesday evening, “Why do people hate Jews?”

The person asking was Bill Schwartz of San Francisco; he is Jewish. Although I am proud to say that I belong to Temple Israel of Alameda, I am not by definition Jewish yet I have studied the Torah at the Temple for the past two years.

My response to Bill was, “People sometimes hate successful cultures, perhaps it is cognitive dissonance or envy dressed up as self-righteousness.”

That was Tuesday, Aug. 15. The next day, Wednesday, Aug. 16, the Temple Israel of Alameda board of directors met to presciently discuss “the possibility of the synagogue being a target in our small town of Alameda.” The concern was in recognition of “the ongoing expression of bigotry and anti-Semitism” in Alameda. “Ongoing” and seemingly unchecked bigotry.

Then, sometime in the early hours of Thursday, Aug. 17, two classroom windows at the synagogue were broken by rocks, additionally, the assailant tried unsuccessfully to break through the front doors of the building — fortunately, the resilient doors were made of half-inch, tempered plate glass. Police took away the rock that the assailant had used to try and smash in the front doors. The assailant’s image was caught on surveillance cameras mounted at the entrance. It would be comforting to say the assailant was being furtive; he wasn’t; he was bold and determined.

Informing her constituents, Temple President Genevieve Pastor-Cohen wrote a letter stating, “It breaks my heart and soul to be exposed to this type of mindless and senseless action especially aimed at the community we love.”

Congregant Mel Waldorf visited the synagogue to survey the damage; he noted that one of the smashed windows “was where kids had painted Stars of David.”

The other smashed window was decorated with art that had clearly been fashioned by elementary aged children. It did not take an art critic to realize that both smashed windows were decorated by children under the age of 12.

The crime was premeditated; the rock had been carried to the scene with intent; no contents were stolen from either room, although two, large, flat-screen TVs were easily accessible.

On Friday, Aug. 18, members and clergy from several local congregations, both Jewish and Christian, arrived in the evening to show their support for Temple Israel of Alameda. Some 400 people stood out-of-doors while another 250 squeezed indoors to express solidarity with the temple congregants. 

Among those attending was Sam Schuchat, President of Temple Sinai’s board; observing the damage he reflected, “It could have been us. Probably next time, it will be.” Schuchat seemingly acknowledged that it was not a question of “if” but a question of “when.” He was resigned to similar assaults being made on Temple Sinai of Oakland and other identifiably Jewish buildings in the Bay Area.

The congregation cheered when Capt. Lance Leibnitz, representing Chief Paul Rolleri announced, based on video evidence, that the incident would be investigated as a hate crime.

Earlier that day, State Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Marc Levine issued a joint statement: “We were deeply troubled to learn Temple Israel in Alameda was the target of vandalism … This is even more alarming with the recent rise of anti-Semitic attacks throughout our country …”

Mel Waldorf, whose daughter attends a local high school, reported that anti-Semitic slurs and threats had been directed towards his daughter. 

He wonders, “How is my daughter supposed to feel safe, with school starting Monday? How can the school district say it’s protecting a student when the kids who did this don’t have to apologize and are sitting in her class for the rest of the year? It’s egregious.”
Swastikas have been scrawled on the sidewalk near Edison School.

It is hard to envision any other situation or act of thuggery wherein even a smidgeon of leniency would be extended or wherein any degree of complacency would be evidenced. Iconic images of child abuse are often those of broken toys, particularly dismembered dolls or torn teddy bears. In this case the iconic image is a window whereon children had proudly displayed their novice art and a hole is carved by a hateful rock determined to shatter the creative expressions of small children.

Really, is this Alameda? I would challenge someone to differentiate between the mass psychology of Kristallnacht, November 1938 and the psychology of the vandalism conducted at Temple Israel of Alameda in August 2017. 

Surveying the scene, Eric Strimling, past president of the Temple, speculated that the dam of political correctness has broken and torrents of pent-up unexamined self-expression are dangerously manifesting themselves. The fringe suddenly and mistakenly senses it has a green light for unleashing dark extremism.

As George Santayana predicted, “Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.”

On Saturday, Aug. 19, Temple Israel conducted Torah classes as usual, as we opened our books, winking up from the carpet were maverick shards of glass missed by the clean-up crew.

 

 

Jeffrey Smith teaches at Encinal High School. He can be reached at jeffreyrsmith@aol.com.