Graffiti, threat have Jewish institutions on edge
Several recent acts of apparently anti-Semitic vandalism in Middlesex County have raised concerns and calls for vigilance among local Jewish leaders.
For the second time in two years, the Middlesex County Parks Department sandblasted swastikas off the John A. Lynch Bridge. The bridge crosses Route 18 over Johnson County Park on the border of Piscataway and New Brunswick.
Additionally, sometime over the New Year’s weekend, a seven-foot aluminum menora erected by the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe at the Suburban Plaza Mall in the town was destroyed by vandals.
Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg said that on Jan. 21, he received an anonymous threatening letter at his synagogue, Congregation Beth-El in Edison. The letter, which said, according to Rosenberg, “Your own people are doing this to you” — referring to other anti-Semitic incidents — was turned over to congregation president Scott Raiman. No police report was filed.
The incidents came against the backdrop of a firebombing of a Rutherford synagogue and arson at a Paramus synagogue. A suspect has since been arrested in those attacks (see Related Articles).
On Feb. 9, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office will present a security briefing and prevention program for Jewish organizations and individuals. The event, at the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County in Old Bridge, will include local law enforcement and officials from the NJ Department of Homeland Security.
The event is cosponsored by the federation’s Community Relations Committee, the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, and the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks.
“We’re deeply saddened by the horrific anti-Semitic acts in our community,” said Gerrie Bamira, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County. “We’ve been communicating with community leadership about the need to take precautions…and report suspicious activity to local authorities.”
The federation sent two representatives — Marc Gabel, security committee cochair at the Young Israel of East Brunswick, and Brina Herskovits, whose husband Zvi is the other cochair — to a Jan. 12 meeting in Bergen County between law enforcement and Jewish leaders.
“I believe protection has to be stepped up by institutions with the aid of police,” Herskovits said. “The East Brunswick police have been to our shul and we work very closely with them.” She recommended that Jewish schools and institutions apply for grants to increase security and urged them to install such features as better lighting and implement programs like a sign-up system to bolster their safety.
Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky of the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe said the damage to the menora at the Spotswood-Englishtown Road mall was discovered Jan. 9 when volunteers arrived to take it down.
“They broke off all the arms,” said Zaklikovsky. “It is a reason for concern and vigilance and shouldn’t be pushed aside. It is important something be done. This is an obvious act of intolerance, the exact opposite of what the menora is supposed to stand for, which is freedom of expression, tolerance, freedom of religion.”
The incident remains under investigation by Monroe police.
The two swastikas were discovered by Dr. Stanley Zimmerman while riding his bicycle. He contacted Rosenberg, who had also arranged to have the Nazi symbols removed the last time they appeared.
Rosenberg contacted county freeholder H. James Polos, a former mayor of Highland Park, who alerted the parks department.
“People complain and complain, but nothing gets done,” said Rosenberg, the son of Holocaust survivors. “The swastika is a symbol of hatred and it is obvious there are people whose hatred of others, including Jews, is coming to the forefront.”