On most Saturday mornings, David Yaffe heads to synagogue. That wasn’t the case last week.
At 8 a.m. on Oct. 6, Yaffe, president of the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia in Fairfax, got an urgent call from Jeff Dannick, the center’s executive director. The building had been vandalized, Dannick told him.
Nineteen swastikas had been spray-painted on the façade. Instead of going to services, Yaffe headed to the center for the cleanup.
“It’s disheartening. It’s disappointing,” Yaffe said on Monday. “But we’re beyond shock. We were hit 18 months ago. It’s our turn again.”
The graffiti was discovered when employees arrived in the morning to open the building for a rented event. Fairfax County police have released stills from surveillance footage showing a single suspect defacing the building’s exterior at about 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 6. He appears to be wearing dark pants and a dark shirt over a gray hoodie, pulled tightly to conceal his face. No other damage was found, and at press time police hadn’t released information on any suspects.
In April 2017, swastikas and other Nazi symbols were spray-painted at the JCC and the Little River United Church of Christ next door. Dylan M. Mahone of Annandale was arrested days later and charged with several felonies.
In June 2018, the nearby Bethlehem Lutheran Church was vandalized. Property was destroyed and swastikas and other racial slurs were written in the sanctuary.
“We’re profoundly disappointed,” Yaffe said of Saturday’s incident. “But we recognize that this is, unfortunately, something we’re going to have to deal with once in a while.”
In a statement on Oct. 6, Yaffe and Dannick noted that vandalism in the area was ecumenical.
“These acts do not represent the community around the J or the community in Northern Virginia. As we also know, our neighboring churches also have suffered recent vandalism,” they wrote.
Hate crimes in Virginia are on the rise, according to Virginia state police. A June report said hate crimes in 2017 were up 50 percent over the year before, with Jews the second most-targeted
Nationally, an Anti-Defamation League report said that the 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2017 represented an almost 60 percent increase from the previous year.
Condemnation came in quickly from Virginia politicians following the vandalism.
“An insidious rise in hateful actions and anti-Semitism is happening in Virginia and across the country,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tweeted. “We must meet it with fierce condemnation and an over-abundance of love and unity. We cannot allow hate to fester.”
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) said the political climate was contributing to expressions of hate.
“Way too many politicians in Virginia are way too complacent about the rise of white supremacist violence and anti-Semitism. The threat is real, it’s growing, and we have to take a stand,” he tweeted.
The JCC will hold a community gathering on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
Following the 2017 incident, a community-wide gathering was held at the Little River United Church to show unity and opposition to hate.
“We’re thinking about, at this stage, what can we do that’s meaningful?” Yaffe said. There’s a feeling that we can only do so many of these [gatherings] and get the feeling that we’re talking to ourselves.”
Fairfax police are offering a reward of up to $1,000 dollars for information leading to an arrest and are asking anyone with information to call the Mason District Police Station at 703-256-8035.
By the afternoon of the vandalism, the physical indication of the hate symbols had been washed away, Yaffe said. People from the area had come to write messages of love and support in chalk outside the building’s entrance.
“What I’ve been getting is that people are dismayed. It’s just dismay and looking for guidance about how we deal with this together,” Yaffe said. “But we’re open for business. We’re going to continue on.”