By ALAN SMASON
The Northshore Jewish Congregation (NJC) was hit by anti-Semitic graffiti spray painted on the rear of its building either late night on September 5 or sometime on Wednesday morning, September 6. Two different spray paints – one red and the other black – were used to stain hate messages onto the brick building.
The matter was reported on Wednesday afternoon to the Mandeville Police Department, who immediately responded to the scene at 1403 North Causeway Approach. The graffiti consisted of two swastikas, one in red and the other in black; a long red cross; the symbol 14/88, which has been linked to two white supremacist phrases surrounding the so-called “14 words” and a shorthand numerical reference to the repeated eighth letter of the alphabet (“h”) for “Heil, Hitler”; the phrase “Synagogue of Hate,” which was spelled correctly and the word “burn,” which was misspelled.
In a statement issued by Mandeville Police Chief Gerald Striker, he said “The Mandeville Police Department is taking this incident very seriously and we are actively investigating this case as a potential hate crime until proven otherwise.”
Chief Striker confirmed that his detectives have reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other “surrounding law enforcement partners” in an effort to determine the identities of those who may have been involved in the incident. His detectives confirmed to him that this is an isolated incident and that no similar incidents have been reported at other area synagogues.
“We are asking anyone with any information about this crime, to call the Mandeville Police Department at (985) 626-9711 or Crime Stoppers at (504) 822-1111,” the chief stated.
In a joint statement issued Thursday afternoon by the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans and the South Central Region of the Anti-Defamation League, ADL regional director Aaron Ahlquist noted, “This odious act of anti-Semitic vandalism invoking white supremacist ideology comes at a time when we, as a society, are seeing a significant rise in anti-Semitic incidents – there was a 77% increase in anti-Semitic incidents last year alone. Hate of any kind must not be normalized, thus we hope that the entire community roundly condemns the vandalism at the Northshore Jewish Congregation.”
Ahlquist also announced that “ADL is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator or perpetrators of this crime.”
Jeremy Shalett, president of NJC, spoke with the CCJN in a phone interview. “We are meeting tonight as a board to see how we are going to address the incident and how we are going to address it as a congregation moving into the High Holidays,” he said.
Ahlquist will attend tonight’s meeting, he acknowledged.
“We have increased the amount of security we will have during the High Holidays,” he added, noting that officers of the Mandeville Police Department will be on heightened patrol outside of the synagogue.
Shalett also added this was the first anti-Semitic attack at the temple of which he was aware.
“I was taken aback. We usually don’t have this kind of activity that I’ve ever seen,” he admitted. “As far as it being visible or an attack on the congregation, it just kind of shocked me, but anything is possible.”
Shalett confirmed that the board will be considering implementing video surveillance of the building, but nothing along those lines has been decided yet.
In speaking with the CCJN, Striker conjectured it might have been kids who were responsible because the incident occurred when schools were closed due to the potential landfall of Tropical Storm Gordon as well as the misspelled word.
Shalett responded: “Does it matter? I don’t think who did it is as important as what was done and the message that we have to deliver as a community,” Shalett responded. “If it was a five-year-old or a 45-year-old, I don’t think that matters.”
Both Federation CEO Arnie Fielkow and board chairman Henry Miller fired back with their joint statement: “Our community remains unified in opposition to white supremacy. Hate for one is hate for all, and as such, we condemn all forms of bigotry and discrimination.”