A Somerville police officer was the first to see the swastika on the wall of the town’s train station, at 11:48 p.m. on Nov. 15. The graffiti also included the word “Jews,” followed by a circle with crossed lines inside.
“The letters were two-and-a-half feet high,” said Captain George Fazio of the Somerville Police Department. It marked the first public act of anti-Semitism in the town since 1993, he said. “Obviously, we are very upset. We’re very concerned, and we don’t want this to be a problem. We’re treating it very seriously. We are doing a full investigation.”
The police have enlisted teachers in the town’s schools. “We’ve asked them to keep an eye on kids’ notebooks to see if they see kids drawing these symbols, and if they could alert us if they see anything,” said Fazio.
Etzion Neuer, director of the New Jersey office of the Anti-Defamation League, called the incident “shocking and deplorable, especially after just finishing commemorating Kristallnacht. I would hope that 71 years after that event, we wouldn’t see any more public displays of hatred.”
Although Fazio emphasized the isolated nature of the event, Neuer said, “These incidents happen far more often than we’d like to see them, particularly in New Jersey.”
[On Monday, Somerville police reported a second incident, saying swastikas were spray-painted underneath an overpass and on a wall near the train station and on a building on Veteran’s Memorial Drive, according to The Star-Ledger.]
Fazio and Neuer said they suspect the incident is the work of individual teens because of the way the two symbols were drawn: the swastika was backward, and the second symbol — which may have been intended as the Celtic cross that has been adopted by white supremacist organizations as a symbol of white pride — was crudely drawn at best.
Additionally, the Somerville community has “no synagogue, no Jewish community center, and no large Jewish population,” said Fazio.
Of a total population of about 12,000, 3.7 percent of Somerville’s residents are Jewish, according to Sperling’s Best Places.
Stanley Stone, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, said his organization is trying to help connect teachers in the Somerville area with The Holocaust Resource Center at Kean University in Union.
“Obviously we’re concerned,” he said. Stone said he hopes teachers can become “better equipped to draw out the lessons of the Holocaust and go beyond the historical component” in their teaching.
Larry Rosin, president of Congregation B’nai Israel in nearby Basking Ridge, is president and cofounder of Edison Research, located in Somerville. Contacted by NJJN a few days after the incident, he had not heard about it. Still, he said, “It’s always a concern. I’m proud we live in a society that understands these are intolerable acts that need to be punished.” While he doesn’t think the acts can be stopped altogether, he focuses on how officials respond. “It’s about the leadership in the community, and what they do about it.” Asked if the incident surprised him, he said, “I’m not surprised. There’s a lot of hatred in this world. I don’t know of any community that is entirely immune.”
So far, there are no suspects, but police are speaking with kids in the area. “It’s going to come down to old-fashioned police work, pounding the pavement,” said Fazio.