Two teens arrested in swastika incident


Two male teenagers were arrested for drawing swastikas and writing “All Jews Burn” at three locations in Potomac and Rockville, according to Montgomery County police, who labeled the incidents hate crimes.

The teens also are being investigated for their possible connection in about 20 other incidents of vandalism, although none of those are considered anti-Semitic, police said.

A swastika about a foot in width was drawn with a marker on the front sign of Young Israel Ezras Israel of Potomac on Seven Locks Road. A swastika and the words “All Jews Burn” were drawn on two school buses that were parked at the Montgomery Child Care Association Ivymount School, which has no Jewish connection, but is located directly next door the synagogue. Lastly, the letters SS and a swastika were written on the windshield of a car parked in front of a residence in the 11000 block of Old Coach Road.

Two 16-year-olds were arrested May 8 and charged in the three incidents, all of which occurred in Potomac and Rockville between April 5 and April 30.

During the course of the investigation, detectives obtained surveillance video of the suspects, which was then shown to area school officials. The suspects, whose identities were not released to the media due to their age, were identified by a school resource officer from a local high school, police said.

Police believe the boys were more interested in vandalism than sending a message, but the investigation is continuing. “I think their intention was more about vandalism and less about them being involved in any anti-Semitic campaign,” said Capt. Paul Starks of the Montgomery County Police Public Information Office.

“That being said, there is still no excuse for conducting that kind of vandalism,”
he added.

Rabbi Yosef Singer of Young Israel, who discovered the swastika during Passover as he headed into the synagogue on the morning of April 19, agreed.

“This was a frontal assault on our synagogue,” he said. “It’s hurtful. It’s insulting. It’s frightening and it’s painful.”

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said while some may view graffiti as a victimless crime, “the reality is, it is not. These symbols of hate really unnerve a community.”

Halber said the juveniles, who were released to the custody of their parents, need to be both punished and also spoken to about the implications of their vandalism.

“We would like to see some strong punishment meted out. Punish them now, and teach them a lesson. Let them know that kind of action will not be tolerated in Montgomery County,” Halber urged.

He said it was hard to know if the boys were truly anti-Semitic. “The reality is, sometimes when they are kids, they just know a swastika is a bad thing,” he said.

He praised the quick work of the police and said discussions were underway to beef up security in that area.

After Rabbi Singer discovered the vandalism, he showed it to the synagogue’s building manager, who walked to a nearby synagogue, Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac, where he knew a police officer would be during the holiday, the rabbi said.

On May 4, a meeting convened by the JCRC was held at Young Israel Ezras Israel. A few members of the Montgomery County Police Department attended, including Chief J. Thomas Manger, as well as representatives from Beth Sholom and the Chabad Shul of Potomac, Singer said.

He felt the meeting was important, because, “if you put a swastika on one synagogue, you are putting a swastika on all synagogues.” Singer said viewing the Nazi symbol was particularly hurtful since his mother and father-in-law are both Holocaust survivors.

“The chief was wonderful. He was concerned and passionate,” said Singer, who felt better when he saw so many Jewish people get together in a common cause. “The bottom line is we are Jews” regardless of what synagogue or movement one follows.

Jeff Kallmeyer, Young Israel’s building manager, praised Manger.

“I will be forever grateful,” said Kallmeyer. “He showed his concern and his commitment to Potomac.”

Kallmeyer said the swastika at the synagogue was big enough to be seen from the road and that it was drawn during the weekend of April 18. He said a Jewish star with a line through it and the phrase “All Jews burn” in German also was drawn on a nearby bus-stop shelter.

Even if the teenagers’ motive was not anti-Semitic, “these symbols invoke terrible personal memories,” said Kallmeyer. “It takes [Holocaust survivors] all the way back.”

During a press conference announcing the arrest of the two Caucasian juveniles, County Executive Ike Leggett praised the police for “their arrests in this recent series of hate-based crime against members of our Jewish community and at some of our area synagogues. We strongly value diversity in Montgomery County and our partnership with our faith community. Hate-based acts and crimes will not be tolerated in Montgomery County.”

At that conference, Manger called the three incidents “particularly ugly and hurtful acts of hate,” adding, “these crimes will not be tolerated by our community or the police. Our gratitude goes out to Rabbi Singer and all of the members of his congregation for their support and assistance.”

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