Police in Salt Lake City are seeking clues about how a swastika symbol appeared on the front window of a Jewish synagogue Sunday morning.
And, while the local community hoped it was etched by someone unaware of what he was doing, video surveillance shows it was “pretty deliberate,” according to Utah Rabbi Avremi Zippel, who spoke with reporters on Sunday.
“A swastika is not a political statement. A swastika is an image of hate. A swastika represents one thing and one thing only and that is death to the Jews,” he said, adding that the symbol has unfortunately become more commonplace in recent years.
Graffiti or vandalism, Zippel said, is one thing, but the depiction of the swastika “is hateful, despicable and cowardly in every sense of the words.”
Zippel, the program director at the Chabad Community Center Synagogue in Sugarhouse tweeted about the act, saying, “Swastikas in 2021 are not something we expect to deal with,” adding that his congregation is OK, though, “a bit shaken up.”
“We will not cower in fear,” the rabbi tweeted, adding #AmYisraelChai, which means “the people of Israel live.”
“As much as we’d like to believe this shouldn’t be happening in 2021, it’s become a very natural part of our discourse,” Zippel said.
The act of vandalism, which is being investigated as a hate crime, comes as tensions continue to escalate in Israel and Gaza. As fighting in the region has climbed to its worst levels since 2014, the Associated Press reported, Israeli airstrikes killed at least 42 people in Gaza City and destroyed three buildings Sunday.
Jerusalem, which is home to more than 200,000 secular Jewish Israelis, has been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the beginning of Ramadan in mid-April.
“We realize that we’re in a time of raised global tensions and there’s a lot of passionate opinions on both sides and the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a very, very complex one and we understand that being in the Jewish community,” Zippel said.
The act, he said, is not indicative of the support his community has received in Utah. Zippel said that Jews throughout history have coped with adversity by increasing attendance and showing up more often.
“We will rise above hatred,” he said. “We will never give it the space and the attention that it demands and that it wants. We will live to fight another day and bring light to a world that so much needs it.”
Local and national leaders pledged support for the local Jewish community across social media platforms on Sunday, following the alleged crime.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall called the vandalism an “act of hatred and intimidation.”
“I stand with Utah’s Jewish Community,” Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson tweeted. “Hate and bigotry have no place in our community.”
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney also responded with a recollection of how America’s first president, George Washington, welcomed Jews who were seeking religious liberty and had settled in Newport in the country’s early days. The senator tweeted on Sunday that the then-president’s actions “marked the way to be taken by all Americans.”
“Those who commit acts of vandalism against Jews or their places of worship in Salt Lake City or anywhere else only disgrace their own souls,” Romney said.
Salt Lake Police Lt. Lisa Pascadlo said police were first notified of the etching on the glass at the synagogue at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday. Video surveillance shows the vandalism happened around 2 a.m.
The video is dark, which makes it difficult to identify the male suspect, though, he appeared tall and was wearing dark clothing. Police are asking anyone with information to call them, at 801-799-3000.
The act of vandalism carries a greater potential penalty because of the nature of the symbol, Pascadlo said.
Zippel said the congregation will be replacing the glass, but are asking, in the meantime, for an artist to make the swastika into something more peaceful.