Nazi graffiti mars city
A rash of anti-Semitic acts of vandalism culminated Tuesday, the first day of Hanukkah, with the discovery of swastikas painted at Temple Bat Yam in South Lake Tahoe, prompting the FBI to open an investigation alongside police.
A plow driver discovered a spray-painted Nazi SS symbol, two swastikas and the words “Die Jew” on the temple Tuesday morning. It is the first instance of anti-Semitism experienced in the synagogue’s 22-year history in South Lake Tahoe.
“This is a tight-knit community that really cares about one another, regardless of background. It is really not something we would expect from each other here,” said the synagogue’s rabbi, Jonathan Freirich, as he surveyed the damage.
More vandalism was discovered later Tuesday. Two swastika’s were painted on road signs and utility boxes along Lake Tahoe Boulevard. A swastika was also found outside the city limits on Pioneer Road on Sunday.
There are no suspects in the crimes, however, South Lake Tahoe police said they want to question an adult white male who lives in the area.
“We have received unofficial information of a possible person doing hate crime related graffiti in the community and we are actively following up to identify that person,” said police Lt. Martin Hewlett.
While swastikas painted on road signs are considered vandalism, desecrating the temple is considered a felony hate crime and will be punished as such, police and federal investigators said.
“This is a high priority criminal investigation for the FBI. We will be following up logical leads,” said FBI special agent and spokeswoman Karen Ernst from the agency’s Sacramento office. “We are at the very beginning stage. It is important for us to get out there with the South Lake Tahoe police to find out what we can from individuals in the community who may know about this.”
This is the first hate crime case this year in South Lake Tahoe, while in 2003 there were five cases reported, none of which were of an anti-Semitic nature, Hewlett said.
There have been a number of anti-Semitic incidents in the region, including fire bombings five years ago at several Sacramento synagogues and vandalism at a Reno synagogue as recent as Labor Day weekend.
Jonathan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in San Francisco, said he doesn’t know if the incidents were meant to coincide with the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday of lights.
“It’s hard to know at this point,” Bernstein said. “The Jewish community in general has a long history of dealing with anti-Semitism. It is certainly not ancient history for us.”
Meanwhile, neighbors of the temple expressed both surprise and anger upon learning of the vandalism.
“This is so terrible it is hard to believe this happened in this community,” said Toni Farnham, whose home of 35 years abuts the temple’s property.
“This is upsetting. You always think it happens in big cities and you don’t think it could happen in your own community,” said Bob Hassett, who has lived on Bode Drive near the temple for about 15 years.
South Lake Tahoe resident Glen Foor said he isn’t surprised the synagogue was targeted as he has had his own run-ins with a racist group called “Nazi Low Riders.” The group is known by Lake Tahoe Police.
“This is sick. My grandfather flew with a fortress over Europe to end this kind of crap,” Foor said. “This has got to be the most disgusting thing I’ve heard of in this community. We need to find out who did this and they need to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Until Tuesday there have not been any reported hate crimes in South Lake Tahoe within the past 12 months according to the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. However there were five reported to police in 2003.
— Jan. 11, 2003: A rock was thrown through a window of a business where the merchant had erected a poster of Martin Luther King Jr. in a window. There were no suspects.
— Jan. 14, 2003: A fight broke out at South Tahoe Middle School between students of Hispanic and Filipino origin. Police said that the children were considered gang members. One student was arrested.
— March 30, 2003: A man of Filipino origin was arrested and charged with a felony hate crime charge and drug possession charges after confronting a group of white men, attacking them with a pool cue and threatening them with a gun, which turned out to be a pellet gun.
— May 18 2003: A white man was arrested in the Kmart parking lot after hitting a Hispanic man, saying to him: “Hitler killed Mexicans and Jews and I’m going to drop you next.”
— June 27, 2003: A fight between a black woman and a white woman erupted in the 700 block of Emerald Bay Road. Racial slurs were used. One woman was arrested and charges were later dropped because the woman who was hit did not want to prosecute.