Vandals spray-painted at least 19 swastikas and left anti-Semitic flyers all over Brooklyn Heights in a blitz on Monday night a few hours after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spewed anti-Semitic rhetoric in a speech at Columbia University — and many believe there is a connection.
“The visit of Ahmadinejad, the little Hitler, brings the anti-Semites out of the woodwork,” Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Borough Park) said at a hastily called press conference on Remsen Street on Tuesday.
Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D-Park Slope) agreed that “it’s hard to believe that there is not a connection” between the Iranian president’s visit and the hate crimes.
The vandals hit two synagogues — Congregation B’nai Avraham, an Orthodox shul, and the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, a Reform temple — along Remsen Street between Clinton and Henry streets, tagging them with the symbol of Nazi Germany.
At least three cars and two apartment buildings were spray-painted with swastikas a few blocks away on Columbia Place between State and Joralemon streets. The graffiti at one of the buildings, 45 Columbia Pl., also included the phrase “Kill Jews.”
The vandals also left fliers on a number of cars on that block with a swastika and the phrase, “Kill the Jews.”
The NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force and 20 other detectives are investigating the vandalism and taking the threat of violence very seriously. On Wednesday, the department set up a mobile command post on Remsen Street, hoping to educate the public and deter future incidents.
“The intensity and the number of incidents in a relatively small area on the Jewish holidays all combined to cause us to assign significant resources to the case,” said Paul Browne, the NYPD spokesman.
On Wednesday, several Jewish groups put up a $10,000 reward for information.
While swastikas periodically show up in Brooklyn neighborhoods with high populations of new (and not always Jewish) immigrants, the appearance of the German hate symbol has been extremely rare in the Heights.
Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) said on Tuesday that she could not remember seeing swastikas in Brooklyn Heights in her 10 years in office.
As a result, neighborhood residents attributed the incident to “just kids.”
“We certainly hope it was just kids,” said Levana Madani, who works for the Congregation B’nai Avraham. “Otherwise we’re talking about some organized neo-Nazi or KKK group, and nobody wants to think about that.”
Rabbi Aaron Raskin of B’nai Avraham thinks the culprits were more misguided than dangerous.
“It reminds us that there are ignorant people out there and that we can’t rest on our laurels,” Raskin said.
“We must educate people in a positive, loving, proactive way to promote peace and understanding to all mankind,” he said.
“The Talmud says that the vessel for God’s blessing is peace.”
When the vandals struck his synagogue, Raskin was inside teaching an 8 pm class about Sukkot, the week-long holiday which began on Wednesday night.
He said he did not notice a swastika when he entered the shul, but when the class let out, a member of the congregation told him about the vandalism.
In spite of the negative images conjured up by the swastika, the rabbi said he was pleased about “the constant flood of support” the congregation has received from the NYPD, the Mayor’s office and the District Attorney.
Raskin added that the incident has bolstered the congregation’s sense of belonging to the community.
“People who didn’t even make it to the synagogue for High Holy Days came in today to show their support,” Raskin said.
“Every negative has a positive.”