By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN
Stephen Landeche, the owner of Absolute Pressure Washing in Sildell, was so sickened by the reports that he read of the anti-Semitic slogans, white supremacist references and swastikas that had been spray painted on the rear of the Northshore Jewish Community’s (NJC) building that he decided to take the matter into his own hands.
On Friday morning, armed with his pressure washing machine and chemicals that had been supplied to him gratis by one of his suppliers, Service One, Landeche removed the offensive material from the bricks that had been spray painted late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. He did so without permission, but no one at NJC is upset at his taking the initiative. They had already vowed at a meeting of their board last night to remove the anti-Semitic graffiti today.
“It made me mad,” Landeche said in a telephone interview with the CCJN. “I had the capabilities to do something about it.” Landeche explained he had previously used the same chemicals to remove so-called tags by graffiti artists on walls adjacent to Children’s Hospital near Audubon Park.
Service One donated the chemicals and Landeche donated the equipment and time through his company.
“I don’t have the money to give to people that donate to this, but I do have the time, the knowledge and the materials to take care of it,” he continued. “That’s just wrong on so many levels. If you don’t agree with somebody, you don’t agree with somebody. You take your opinion and you go on your way.”
When informed that what he did would be considered a righteous act, a mitzvah, Landeche expressed thanks, adding “I’m not Jewish, but that’s just wrong.”
The removal of the graffiti ended the initial discussion and pushback of the NJC, the victims of anti-Semitic slogans and Nazi symbols painted on their building. However, it is only the beginning of what they intend to do in response.
The NJC board met last night for two and a half hours to discuss the events of the previous day during which the graffiti had been discovered. In addition to many of its rank and file members, the meeting was open to representatives of several Jewish community organizations.
Aaron Ahlquist, the South Central Region director of the Anti-Defamation League; Rabbi Gabriel Greenberg, the chair of the New Orleans Clergy Council; Rabbi David Gerber from URJ member Congregation Gates of Prayer; and Bradley Bain, the chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, were all in attendance to express solidarity with NJC.
In addition, Federation CEO Arnie Fielkow spoke via telephone to the board members from Nashville, TN.
This afternoon, NJC president Jeremy Shalett issued a statement that read, in part: “We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from our congregation, friends and neighbors in St. Tammany.”
Shalett continued: “We will have many other opportunities for volunteering and engagement, starting with a public event we are hosting with other local organizations on Sunday, Sept. 16. Our community is moving forward from this unfortunate incident, and we refuse to let this deter us from our congregation’s mission. We stand together firmly against all forms of hatred and bigotry. We call on everyone in St. Tammany, regardless of religion or background, to join us in this stance and carry it forward as we look toward observing the start of the Jewish New Year.”
Shalett also related that one part of the wall still requires repainting. Some board members had suggested painting a mural in the same place where the noxious words and symbols existed that would be “a positive, creative resolution” to the incident. Details of what the mural would include have yet to be determined, he said.
Following the meeting, Ahlquist and Bain spoke to the CCJN over the telephone on Friday morning. That was followed by a late Friday afternoon phone call from Fielkow.
Fielkow stated that Federation representatives were there to lend their support to NJC. “I am very proud, in quick order, that a unified Jewish-led community consisting of the Jewish Federation, the ADL, the Community Relations Council, JCRS and many others came together to show our support for the Northshore Jewish Congregation and its membership and actively communicated to a larger local and national audience that the type of sick event orchestrated Wednesday won’t be tolerated and that our organizations will aggressively fight bigotry and discrimination,” Fielkow said.
“We are talking to a lot of other faiths and races,” he continued. “Discrimination towards any group is unacceptable and it’s proper for all of us for all of us – especially the Jewish community – to be willing to stand up where bigotry and discrimination exist and join, shoulder to shoulder, to support religious and ethnic groups that face such hateful and vile activity.”
Ahlquist also furnished a statement to the CCJN via email. “Northshore Jewish Congregation is engaging in necessary introspection to ensure a safe and secure place of prayer. ADL and other community leaders who participated in the meeting are committed to assisting the congregation as they work their way through this process. The outpouring of support from the larger community allows for an opportunity to show unity in the face of this hateful act, and to stand up alongside the congregation to say that Louisiana is better than this, and that this is not who we are. The congregation is exploring meaningful ways to turn this experience into one of solidarity and peace as they move into the High Holidays.”
Bain reflected on what occurred at the meeting last night. “We were trying to assess the needs of the congregation and the community. Many people in the larger Jewish community in the Greater New Orleans area expressed interest in being of assistance either in cleanup or in other needs going forward,” he explained. “However many miles north on the other side of the lake they are, was irrelevant. It’s one community that is facing this disgusting display of graffiti. So, it was really to show unity on behalf of Federation and to express that we would bring to bear any sort of resources necessary community-wide to help with the immediate needs of cleanup, but also the long-term needs of the congregation.”
Late this afternoon, the New Orleans City Council issued a statement by all of its members decrying the graffiti attack and standing in solidarity with the affected congregation. Read that statement here.