An employee of Congregation Mikveh Israel found anti-Semitic messages written onto a sign posted outside the synagogue on July 31 and notified the Philadelphia Police Department, which is investigating the incident.
“Jews are Scum,” “Long Live Hitler” and a swastika were added to a sign directing congregants and other neighborhood residents to refrain from feeding the animals in the synagogue’s small grove of trees.
“There is still, unfortunately, hatred in the hearts of people,” said Rabbi Albert Gabbai, who leads Mikveh Israel. “And that hatred is many-faceted, in many ways. Anti-Jewish, anti-Black, anti-white, anti-whatever it is. Anti-somebody else. That’s hatred.”
Disappointing as the sign was to find, Gabbai said, it was not particularly surprising.
After contacting 6th District police, Gabbai and the synagogue leaders informed congregants of the occurrence via email. The case was referred to the Central Detective Division. As of Aug. 6, there was no information available regarding a suspect.
“We are saddened, but sadly not surprised, by the despicable anti-Semitic vandalism that occurred at Congregation Mikveh Israel last week,” Shira Goodman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Philadelphia, said in a statement. “Last year, ADL tallied the most anti-Semitic incidents ever recorded nationwide, and Pennsylvania experienced the second-highest level of anti-Semitic activity ever measured in the Commonwealth. Anti-Jewish hate is on the march in the region and across the nation, and Jewish individuals and institutions must remain vigilant. We are grateful to the Philadelphia Police Department for their swift and serious response to this incident. Their response sends a message that anti-Semitic hate crimes will not be tolerated in the City of Philadelphia.”
According to Gabbai and Mikveh Israel Executive Director Shayna Golda, the synagogue has long maintained strong ties with its Old City neighbors. Last summer, when the synagogue experienced a power outage, the neighboring Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District hotel hosted congregants for services. And the synagogue maintains close relations with the nearby American Bible Society and other neighboring religious institutions.
Even though the synagogue does have its own security service, 24-hour cameras and regular police patrols, people who live and work in the area frequently make use of the wooded area for a sunny lunch.
“Our neighbors are wonderful,” Gabbai said. Both Golda and Gabbai expressed doubt that the vandal could be someone from the neighborhood.
It’s been about 20 years, according to Gabbai, since the synagogue has experienced vandalism of this nature; back then, it was a Nazi symbol scribbled onto the synagogue’s marble monument to Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu. This most recent iteration is a “minor incident,” in his estimation. He said the synagogue will continue to speak strongly against hate.
“In Judaism, we are forbidden to hate,” Gabbai said. “Can you imagine if we are to hate openly? Much worse. That’s No. 1. No. 2, hatred has no color. We can have white people hating Black people, you can have Black people hating white people, you can have Black people hating Jews, white people hating Jews, but Judaism says, no hatred whatsoever. So racism is hatred, and racism against Jews is also hatred … We have to uproot hatred from our hearts. We have to teach love and never teach hatred.”