A week after residents of Manalapan were shocked to find swastikas painted in red on cars, signs, and mailboxes, a troubled community is taking steps to heal the pains from the anti-Semitic outburst.
The offensive Nazi symbols were erased quickly from their locations in the predominantly Jewish section of Monmouth Heights, after their discovery on Sept. 6.
As the police investigation continued, 15 teenage members of the Orthodox National Conference of Synagogue Youth distributed 150 jars of honey and New Year greeting cards on Sept. 13 to Jewish and non-Jewish residents in the neighborhood.
“We are really happy that the teenagers are volunteering to do this and that Wegman’s Supermarket in Manalapan recognized the timeliness of the situation and provided us with the honey,” said Ariella Lis Raviv, manager of community impact at the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County.
Meanwhile, federation officials were joining police in beefing up security at local synagogues in preparation for the High Holy Days.
“It is a time of heightened sensitivity and that is one reason why an event like this is a great concern and why we take security and preparedness very seriously,” said federation executive director Keith Krivitzky.
“This is a time of year when Jews who are less connected or affiliated become more sensitive to their Jewish ties and want to connect,” Krivitzky told NJ Jewish News in a Sept. 13 phone interview. “But as a result of something like this, the tendency could be for synagogues to lock down and to require tickets or actually turn away people who are not already affiliated. Our challenge is to present as welcoming a face as possible in the face of real security concerns. That is what we are encouraging our synagogues to do,” he said.
Although police declined to discuss the case, which they have labeled a hate crime, Krivitzky wrote in a Sept. 11 e-mail to community leaders: “While initial assessments and reports seem to be that this is the work of a troubled youth, nothing has been ruled out and the investigation is ongoing.”
The incident triggered an outpouring of outrage and support from beyond Manalapan’s Jewish community.
On the evening after the swastikas were discovered, the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders met to denounce the desecrations.
“While we’d like to think the treatment of the Jews during World War II taught us right from wrong, the sad fact is the lesson was lost on some people,” said Freeholder deputy director Thomas Arnone. “I personally find this kind of vandalism despicable, to say the least.”
“The painting of a swastika is one of the most contemptible hate crimes a person could commit,” said Freeholder Lillian Burry. “It is a symbol of the attempt to exterminate the Jewish people by Nazi Germany, and should be condemned in the strongest language possible.”
“It is shocking and unacceptable, especially in an area that is home to a number of Holocaust survivors,” Freeholder Serena DiMaso said. “The community will not be intimidated by these senseless acts of hate.”
At least one family in Monmouth Heights expressed their appreciation of the NCSY teens’ “sweet gift.” In an e-mail to Krivitzky, Cassie and Brian Balint sent their thanks. “It takes courage and forgiveness to stand up to hate crimes,” they wrote, “and these young adults have that and more.”
Brian Balint told NJJN, “The fact that they have more courage and forgiveness was moving and gives us faith in the youth of our community who are standing up for what they believe in, tolerance and acceptance.
The couple, who are not Jewish, noted that they are new to the neighborhood and have already seen a number of disturbances. “It’s refreshing to see the youth moving past all this and hitting the streets to meet the neighbors and show them we’re all in this together. Thanks again, and enjoy your upcoming holidays and high holy season.”