Swastika graffito on the door of Temple Sinai, Oakland. October 2020.

Antisemitism Hits Home

Image: The graffiti on the door of Temple Sinai. (Photo courtesy of Temple Sinai.)

The heavy old doors are weather-worn, their 106 years showing. I’ve walked through them many times and on many occasions: holidays, weddings, numberless Shabbats. Nowadays they are kept locked, because our security has to be very tight at Temple Sinai, but they are still part of the beautiful façade of the building.

We got another reminder this week of the need for security. Someone spray-painted a swastika on that old door, along with other vandalism on the facility. The first I knew of it was an email from the senior rabbi, Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin, and the executive director, Terrie Goren. As they wrote:

This is unfortunate news to share, yet we are grateful that neither the graffiti nor the perpetrator posed a direct threat to our staff or congregants. Our beautiful sanctuary has stood on the corner of Webster and 28th streets for over 100 years. It will weather this challenge, as will we.

This is just the latest such incident. Temple Sinai is an urban synagogue, and as such has to deal with graffiti from time to time, but this was unmistakable in its hateful intent. The memory of Rosh Hashanah morning in 2017 is still sharp, too, the last time someone put explicitly antisemitic and obscene paintings on the exterior of the building.

The Oakland Police Department tweeted on Wednesday evening that they have a suspect in custody. I appreciate their effort, and at the same time, I do not feel particularly relieved. I am acutely aware of the rise of antisemitism here and elsewhere in the United States.

Most minorities in the U.S. are feeling threatened in the shadow of the upcoming election. The hateful talk on social media has reached frightening levels.

I have two requests of my readers, if you are thinking, “How can I help?”

The first request is that you vote in the November 3 election, if you haven’t already done so. Nothing is going to get better until we have better leadership in Washington, and while it is already dreadful, it can and will get a lot worse if we do not change our leadership.

The second request is that you search your heart about the categories of people who are hated by white supremacists: Black, Latinx, Asian, Native American, Muslims, LGBTQ, Jews, all people of color, immigrants… such a long list and I am sure I’m forgetting someone. If there’s a category on that list that makes you hesitate, some group of people you feel squirrelly about, then do the work of growing past that limitation. Educate yourself. Read a book. Change your heart.

Hatred is tearing American apart. It’s up to us to save it.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

9 thoughts on “Antisemitism Hits Home”

  1. I was accosted on Shattuck Avenue by a man asking if I was a Jew. I said yes, and he cursed me in a foreign language, which he said was superior to Hebrew. It was frightening. The incident took place in broad day light.

    I certainly have voted, and have joined an anti-racism reading group.

  2. Ruth, I am so sorry to hear of this and heartened by your focus, moving forward. One way to begin to understand the history and depth of how all of us have been and are affected by racism in America, is to read the book, Caste, The Origin of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson.

  3. This is so disheartening, it made me feel ill to see the hateful symbol on those beautiful old doors. I had an incident this past week as well, I was pulled over by a LBPD vehicle, and the officer was shaven headed. He came up to my door asked for my liscence and Registration which I had out, and I asked him why he had stopped me. He said ” I see a family Crest from Russia on the bakc of your vehicle, do you have a permit for that?” I replied that I didn’t know I needed one, my cousin sent it to me for my birthdayl last year and because it incorporated the Star of David I put it on my car next to the plate. The officer said, I need to check on your ID and returned to his car, I then noticed that the vehicle which had been behind me before the officer pulled between us had come back around the corner and was parked behind the police car. The two young Hispanic men in the vehicle had their phones out and were photoing the scene. THe officer came back to me after about 15 minutes and said, “Well it seems there is no law but there sure ought to be, so I suggest you take that off when you get home. Then he said I was free to go. WHen I took off so did the young men and they pulled beside me opened the passenger windo and asked if I was OK. Turned out I had one of them in my counseling when I worked for the Conservation Corps and they wanted to be certain I was OK. What a world!


    1. Leah,
      I too am upset by the graffito on the schul, and I agree with the Rabbi about the need to change our “leadership” through the electoral process. I have voted safely here in Maine.
      I do not know where the LB Police Department is located, but I urge you to file a report with your Chief of Police about the “traffic stop” that you were subjected to. That officer needs some serious training, or he needs to find another line of work! If you do not get satisfaction from the Chief, then I urge you to elevate this concern to your local elected officials, and, if necessary, to involve the media to get transparency on this sad situation.

  4. During the High Holy Days we asked for forgiveness and compassion. One of the hardest things to do when confronted with antisemitism is to see if we can find it in our own hearts to understand the perpetrator. Possibly the graffiti didn’t come from a feeling of power but of powerlessness and pain. We’ll have different feelings once we have some more details but I do hope we follow our teachings to temper judgment with mercy, as we’ve just requested for ourselves last month.

    1. Rabbi,
      Hate stems from fear of “other.” I’d like to add people with disabilities to that long and unfortunate list. We are victims, too! Not always overt, but often in subtle, discreet, gaslighting ways.

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