Vashon Islanders shocked by anti-Semitic graffiti in Havurat

Graffiti scribbled on a wall at the Havurat is being investigated as a hate crime.  - Amelia Heagerty/staff photographer
Graffiti scribbled on a wall at the Havurat is being investigated as a hate crime.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photographer

Update: Vigil to be held on Friday

At 5 p.m. Friday in front of The Hardware Store Restaurant, community members have planned a vigil in solidarity with the Island's Jewish community. Father Tryphon, abbot of All-Merciful Saviour Orthodox Monastery in Dockton and organizer of the event, said this date was chosen because it is on the eve of the Jewish sabbath.

On Saturday morning, when members came to worship at the Havurat Ee Shalom, the Island synagogue, what they found was “tremendously shocking,” as one member put it.

In the night, someone had broken a window on the right-hand side of the building, climbed through it and scrawled a swastika and the phrase “God hates Jews” on the front wall of the room with a marker.

“I have deep feelings toward the community, and I don’t see this as a reflection of the community,” said Louise Dorfman Olsen, president of the Havurah and a member for 18 years. “It is upsetting.”

Since the congregation purchased the building six years ago, there has only been one act of aggression against it, when a rock was thrown through one of its windows, said Emma Amiad.

“We downplayed it, thinking it was just kids playing a prank,” she said. “This is not kids playing a prank. This is clearly hateful.”

On Saturday at 10 a.m., just 30 minutes after the first members arrived to take part in their weekly Torah study and discovered the anti-Semitic graffiti, a neighbor of the Havurat wept and said, “What’s wrong with people?”

Chaim Rosemarin, a fellow member of the 22-year-old Jewish congregation, said it was important to let the community know the act occurred.

“It’s upsetting; it’s a little bit scary to know that people like that are out there,” he said. “It’s tremendously shocking. Different faith communities have always gotten along very well on the Island. We hope that it’s an isolated incident.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal foundation that tracks hate groups nationwide, Washington has 20 active hate groups. Five of those are white supremacy groups in Seattle and Tacoma, a disproportionately high concentration of such organizations.

“There seems to be an elevated level of violence against churches here,” Amiad said of Vashon. “I think this is an opportunity not only for the Jewish community to realize we’re not immune to this kind of prejudice on the Island just because we live here. ... Maybe its time to realize we’re not immune to prejudice against religious groups.”

A recent spate of criminal acts against places of worship include this weekend’s break-in at Havurat Ee Shalom, the theft last weekend of a safe from St. John Vianney Catholic Church and the vandalism of a historic stained glass window at the Presbyterian Church last year. In that incident, which left the parishioners reeling, an individual smashed out the face of Jesus in a window that depicted him as the Good Shepherd.

“They wanted to handle it their own way,” Amiad said of the Presbyterian Church’s forgiving reaction to the destruction of their stained glass window. Church leaders did not press charges, although the individual who committed the crime admitted he had done it.

In the Havurat Ee Shalom incident, the intruder rifled through a closet that stores an amplifier and sound system, unzipping the amplifier’s case, but did not appear to have taken anything.

The King County Sheriff’s deputy who was called to the scene wrote in a police report that he believed the perpetrator was a juvenile, due to the handwriting and the fact that one of the two swastikas was drawn incorrectly. The window the individual crawled through was approximately 2 feet square.

Sgt. John Urquhart, a spokesman for the department, said although the act was a hate crime, if the act was committed by a juvenile he or she would be more likely to be charged with malicious burglary and malicious harassment, both class C felonies. Depending on the individual’s previous criminal history, he or she could get probation, jail or prison time, Urquhart said.

Bias-motivated crimes can be directed at many groups, and whether it is “anti-Semitic, anti-black, anti-Moslem,” or against another sector of the population, it’s important to let those responsible for the act know that “it is not acceptable,” said Rob Jacobs.

Jacobs is the regional director of Stand With Us, a local Israel education and advocacy organization, and worked with the Anti-Defamation League in Boseman, Mont., in 2005, when anti-Semitism caused problems in the community.

“When you say, ‘It’s not who we are,’ it puts whoever’s doing it on the outside,” he said. “It’s important to get the town consensus, right as (the hate crimes) start, that this is wrong. If you don’t, it empowers them because they’re getting publicity for what they did.”

Father Tryphon, abbot of the All-Merciful Saviour Orthodox Monastery in Dockton, said he planned to wear a Star of David on his sleeve to show solidarity with the Jewish community on Vashon beginning yesterday.

“I am absolutely shocked that anyone on this Island would desecrate the serenity and solidarity of this community by doing such a horrendous thing,” he said. “If everyone on this Island started doing that ... we would be speaking as a united community against this kind of racism and anti-Semitism. God willing, this will be the last we’ll ever see of anything like this on the Island.”

A Call to Action

Those familiar with hate crimes say they can best be stomped out when a community pulls together and supports those who have been targeted. The Beachcomber urges Islanders to do so in this instance by posting a Star of David in their windows, on their cars or elsewhere. See editorial in Opinion.

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