No suspects after swastikas found on lawn of Highland Park Jewish homeowner
Community rattled after second anti-Semitic incident
Authorities are still searching for suspects more than two weeks after five swastikas were drawn in the snow outside the home of a Jewish family in Highland Park.
The homeowner, Darren Levin, told NJJN that he found the Nazi symbols early on the morning of Jan. 5 as he was leaving his home to attend morning services at his synagogue, which he declined to identify.
“Three were on the path leading to my house and one was on the grass right after that,” he said. “As I was cleaning my car off I found one on the back of my car. I guess they wanted to make sure I didn’t miss them.”
Highland Park Police Lt. Thomas Hammill said authorities are continuing to canvass the neighborhood hoping someone saw something or has footage on a security camera. The case is ongoing and could be classified as a bias incident depending on the circumstances and motivation of the perpetrator, he said.
Levin said he was baffled as to why his home was singled out. He said the perpetrator may have realized his family was Jewish because his Hebrew first name, in English lettering, is on his door.
“I have never had any problems before,” said Levin, a Judaic studies teacher and curriculum developer at Yeshivat Netivot Montessori in East Brunswick. “We have good relationships with our neighbors, both Jews and non-Jews, and friends here who are Jewish and not Jewish. We’ve been here three years and we’ve been very happy. We were really surprised to see it in Highland Park let alone our home because we’ve found Highland Park to be a safe and diverse place.”
Hammill said that, fortunately, there were few such instances of intolerance toward religious and ethnic minorities in the borough, and none since the Jan. 5 incident.
It was the second anti-Semitic incident in Highland Park in less than two months. On Nov. 9, a Jewish woman, Elaine Dean, found a sealed package on the front lawn of her Benner Street home filled with trash, including dog excrement and cigarette butts. Handwritten on the large envelope were anti-Semitic slurs and obscenities, including drawings of a swastika and another of a middle finger. Dean told News 12 New Jersey that she has received numerous complaints from neighbors about the noise caused by the barking of her four dogs, which she suggested may have been the motivation behind the package.
This incident is being investigated by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office as a bias crime. Spokesperson Andrea Boulton said there were no new developments.
Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler, a former president of the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth, issued a statement after the swastika was found on Levin’s lawn:
“Hate of any kind will not be tolerated here,” she said. “The recent disgraceful act of anti-Semitism displayed on a Highland Park resident’s home is under investigation. The hate-filled vandal will be found and dealt with by the Highland Park police. Hate has no home here.”
Joshua Cohen, the New Jersey regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) praised the mayor for speaking out against anti-Semitism and the police department for their swift response, but noted that offensive acts like these take a toll on the community.
“Sadly, New Jersey is not immune to anti-Jewish animus,” Cohen said. “Incidents like these can leave victims and members of the community feeling vulnerable and unprotected. As such, they warrant a priority response from everyone.”
Anyone with information should call the Highland Park Police detective bureau at (732) 572-3800.