OLYMPIA - Rabbi Cheski Edelman made a disturbing discovery at The Chabad Jewish Discovery Center on Legion Way on Tuesday morning: Someone had knocked over the nearly 9-foot menorah visible from the street and spray-painted the words "Die Jew" at its base.
Edelman, who moved to Olympia with his family two years ago from Springfield, Mass., to found the center, said he reported the incident to Olympia police, who are investigating.
On Wednesday, the words were still visible on the metal menorah – one of the traditional symbols of Judaism – outside the center. Three of its lights had been damaged or broken, according to Olympia police.
“It’s certainly very frustrating that these people choose to have a message of hate,” Edelman said. “We certainly don’t need any more of that in this world, and it’s not helping anyone.”
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Edelman said he will not let the vandalism prevent him from continuing to work and live in Olympia.
“It’s an unfortunate incident, but it’s not symptomatic of the people of Olympia,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place, a friendly place, and this incident should not be a stain on the people of Olympia or Thurston County.”
Edelman said that police have told him they hope it’s an isolated incident. Officers took a beer bottle left near the scene to check for fingerprints, he said.
Olympia Police Sgt. Dan Smith said Wednesday that police were unable to lift any usable prints from the bottle and have no suspects. Smith and other officers said there haven’t been any other recent reports involving anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism.
Smith called the graffiti “awful” and said anyone with information that can help police make an arrest should call in tips to 360-753-8300.
Edelman said he has not experienced anything like this since moving to Olympia.
He said his work involving his faith includes events at the center, such as study groups, a preschool, holiday programs and Friday night services.
Edelman said he also does outreach with Hillel House at The Evergreen State College, offering Jewish students support and the opportunity to learn more about Judaism during one-on-one study sessions.
Members of Olympia’s Jewish community called Tuesday’s vandalism a hate crime.
Charles Shelan said the vandalism is a “despicable crime,” not only against Rabbi Edelman and his family but the entire Olympia community.
Shelan added that the act is a reminder that “we have to all redouble our efforts to eradicate racism.”
Daniel Kadden, who is executive director of Interfaith Works, said religious groups in Olympia will “all stand shoulder to shoulder to address and respond as appropriate.”
Kadden said that while incidents such as Tuesday’s vandalism are rare, it is not the first time it has happened in the Olympia area.
Rabbi Seth Goldstein of Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia said he is confident the community does not tolerate the message of hate promulgated by the vandals.
“This community is one that has proven in the past it does not tolerate messages such as this,” he said.
If suspects are located and arrested, they could be charged under the state’s malicious harassment statute – which targets so-called hate crimes.
The statute makes certain acts a class C felony when they are committed because of a perpetrator’s “perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap,” according to the statute.
Acts that can constitute malicious harassment under Washington law include those that cause physical injury to a victim or cause damage or destruction of property, or acts that threaten “a specific person or group of persons and places that person, or members of the specific group of persons, in reasonable fear of harm to person or property.”
Jeremy Pawloski: email@example.com