Gaithersburg police are treating as a hate crime the appearance overnight of multiple swastikas defacing Shaare Torah. A police patrol of the Lakelands community discovered on a morning drive-by that 11 swastikas and “KKK” were spray painted on three sides of the Conservative synagogue, according to Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal.
A security camera recorded two people carrying spray paint at 2:37 a.m. Tuesday, said Mark Sroka, Gaithersburg’s chief of police. There are no suspects, but there is “one young man who is a person of interest,” he said.
Police deemed the incident a hate crime because it was “an unlawful act designed to frighten, intimidate or harass” with a bias against a religious group, Sroka said.
A hate crime carries a penalty of up to three years imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine, he said.
The 260 member household synagogue has not received any threats or asked for additional security, Sroka said.
The graffiti, in white, was on the outside walls and front door of the building.
Blumenthal said that while disturbing, the event was not indicative of a larger problem.
“This is an isolated person or group,” Blumenthal said. “The fabric of diversity in the county and the city is strong.”
The vandalism occurred hours after Gaithersburg’s mayor proclaimed April 12-19 as Days of Remembrance in the city for the Holocaust.
Gaithersburg police will continue their investigation before opening a tip line for the public to use, Sroka said.
Update, April 8, 1:10 p.m.: A group of local Muslim organizations has condemned the vandalism at Shaare Torah. The Muslim community “extend[s] our hand in friendship to the Shaare Torah congregation of Gaithersburg, as well as to the greater Jewish Community,” according to a statement.
Signatories included: WORDE/International Cultural Center, Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County, Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland, Howard County Muslim Council,
Montgomery County Muslim Relief and The Islamic Congregations of Montgomery County.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a national advocacy group, expressed solidarity with the Jewish community following the vandalism at Shaare Torah.
“We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community as they respond to this act of hatred,” CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper said in a statement. “Americans of all faiths should be free to worship without intimidation or harassment. Targeting a house of worship with symbols of hatred and violence is a despicable act.”
See also: What’s in a hate crime?
I would like to express my deep condolences at this disgusting act. I would be extremely upset if a Mosque were to be defaced and since Judaism and Islam are so closely related, I can almost relate to your pain. I’m terribly sorry. Schalom and God Bless.