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In the aftermath of a hateful act, Islanders express a mix of feelings Not on our watch
Nearly 100 people gathered on Vashon’s main intersection Friday evening in a quiet show of support for Vashon’s Jewish community and to denounce what Father Tryphon called “a sin against God and a sin against humanity.”
“We know scientifically if not in our hearts that we all have the same blood,” Tryphon, abbot of the All-Merciful Savior Orthodox Monastery in Dockton, told the group.
Linda Clifton, a board member of the Anti-Defamation League for the Northwest region who came from Seattle to the vigil, said it was hard for her to don a Star of David because it was used by Nazi Germany to identify Jews.
“It is a star of desolation, of exclusion, of death,” she told the group.
But looking around at all the people, Jews and non-Jews alike, wearing Stars of David pinned to their shirts, she added, “This gathering makes it a symbol of hope.”
The vigil came less than a week after Islanders learned that the Havurat Ee Shalom, a small synagogue on the Westside Highway, had been broken into and the words “God hates Jews” scrawled on its front wall. Two swastikas were also drawn on the wall.
The vigil, which Tryphon helped to spearhead, was a way, he said, to embrace all that is good and right on the Island and to “stand up against racism and anti-Semitism.”
Several members of the syagogue said they were deeply moved by the gathering, one of the largest on Vashon in recent years.
“It was really powerful to drive up and see every corner filled,” said Suzanne Greenberg, referring to the four corners at the intersection of Vashon Highway and Bank Road. “My heart stopped.”
Last week’s break-in and desecration hit many members of the small synagogue hard, some of whom said it underscored that even a place like Vashon – known for its tolerance and liberalism – is not immune to anti-Semitism.
Around 35 members of the congregation gathered a few days after the incident to discuss how they should respond. According to some who attended, the discussion was heartfelt and thoughtful and ran the gamut from those who expressed outrage to those who were not terribly surprised. Everyone at the meeting spoke.
The group decided they should work closely with the King County Sheriff’s Department to try to catch the perpetrator; they will encourage the school district to adopt a curriculum that addresses tolerance; and they’ll work to enhance security at the Havurat.
The “three-pronged approach,” as Havurat member May Gerstle called it, still needs to go to the Havurat’s board for final approval.
Dan Asher, a member of the board, said it will meet this week to determine how to “take what we heard … and translate them into actual steps.”
Both Gerstle and Asher said they were struck by the quality of the discussion at last week’s meeting.
“It was very, very impressive,” Gerstle said. “People were so thoughtful; they were not paranoid.”
Asher added that board president Louise Olson has done an excellent job of handling the situation with the young congregation – which has been meeting at the Havurat only six years – ensuring everyone gets heard, urging people to not be passive and yet also remaining levelheaded.
“It’s a very fine line to draw,” he said.
Meanwhile, both the King County Sheriff’s Department and the King County Prosecutor’s office are involved in the case, which is being handled as a hate crime, a felony under state law.
Mike Hogan, a deputy prosecutor who handles hate crimes, said the incident at the Havurat is what he calls a classic example of a hate crime. In fact, he said, the drawing of a swastika on a synagogue’s wall as well as a cross-burning at an African-American’s home are cited as examples in the state’s xx-year-old law that makes such incidents prosecutable as hate crimes.
Hogan, who has been prosecuting such crimes for 24 years, said an act of this nature has a tremendous impact; there are members of the congregation who lost family members in the Holocaust, he said. The perpetrator’s intent, he said, appeared to be nothing but an expression of anti-Semitism – a harsh statement in a community like Vashon, which prides itself for its inclusiveness.
But Hogan also praised Vashon’s response. A community-wide expression of revulsion and a show of support for the “targeted community,” he said, “let an offender see that Vashon is not a good place for this type of thing.”
An arrest will only happen, he added, if someone comes forward with information about the incident – something he’s hopeful will happen.
“If it’s going to be solved, it’s going to be through the community,” he said. “We’re optimistic that might work.”
Meanwhile, many members of the congregation say they’ve felt heartened by the strong community response. Thanks to an effort spearheaded by a handful of community members, Stars of David have been taped to the windows of numerous businesses, cars and even homes. The ministers of at least two of the Island’s Protestant churches sent out e-mail messages to their congregation urging them to attend the vigil. And Father xxxxx, priest at St. John Vianney, issued a statement of support for the Island’s Jewish community.
“I’ve been overwhelmed,” said Matt Bergman, an Islander and member of the congregation. “Edmund Burke said all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. The fact that the outrage we’ve felt has been shared by others in the community is very gratifying.”
Gene Lipitz, another member of the synagogue, said he’s worn a yarmulke all week.
“I want to be very clear that I’m not invisible,” he said.