Indiana’s interfaith community is rallying around a Conservative Jewish synagogue vandalized with Nazi symbols over the weekend.
Days after members of the Congregation Shaarey Tefilla in Carmel, Indiana, discovered the anti-Semitic symbols spray-painted onto a brick structure on synogogue property, Jewish community members and interfaith allies crowded into the packed synagogue to show their support.
Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow said during the gathering Monday night that even though he believed the vandalism was “motivated by hate,” he was heartened by the outpouring of love that it prompted.
“Because that [vandalism] happened, this synagogue is full of brothers and sisters of good will,” Sendrow told the room full of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Christian leaders. “All [the vandals] have done is awaken the sleeping giant of love and acceptance and mutual respect.”
“This gathering is who we are,” he added. “What’s painted on the walls back there, that doesn’t represent Carmel, Indianapolis, Indiana or America.”
According to synagogue spokeswoman Lindsay Shipps, someone spray-painted two Nazi flags with swastikas and two iron crosses ― a German military medal adopted by the Nazi regime ― onto a structure that encloses Congregation Shaarey Tefilla’s garbage dumpster.
Surveillance footage shows two people painting the symbols onto the synagogue property from about 11 p.m. on Friday to about 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, Shipps told The Washington Post. There was also evidence that the vandals had an incendiary device with them that left burn marks on the brick wall. The graffiti was discovered Saturday afternoon.
Members of Congregation Shaarey Tefilla were stunned by the incident, Shipps told HuffPost.
“They’ve seen this happen in other communities day after day, and all of a sudden, it’s here at home,” she said. “I’ve seen folks just break down in tears, folks shake their heads in amazement, folks immediately roll up their sleeves and want to help clean it up. There are others who want it to stay up to show others how brazen this hatred has become.”
Eli Keren, a member of the synagogue, told the Indianapolis Star that he felt angry and disappointed when he saw the symbols.
“For me to see this, it kind of hits home,” Keren told the newspaper on Sunday. “I’m first generation after the Holocaust. My father’s family is from Poland. My mother’s family is from Hungary. And 90 percent of our family went up in smoke just under this particular flag in (concentration camps) and this kind of hate and bigotry.”
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said in a statement that the Carmel Police Department is investigating the incident, but no one has been arrested yet, the Indianapolis Star reported Monday evening. The police department did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
The vandalism has prompted Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) to call on lawmakers to pass hate crime legislation. Indiana is one of just five states in the U.S. that does not have hate crime laws on the books.
“No law can stop evil, but we should be clear that our state stands with the victims and their voices will not be silenced,” Holcomb tweeted. “For that reason it is my intent that we get something done this next legislative session, so Indiana can be 1 of 46 states with hate crimes legislation — and not 1 of 5 states without it.”
At Monday’s solidarity gathering, members of Jewish, LGBTQ, Hindu, Muslim, and other minority communities showed their support for hate crimes legislation in Indiana.
Aliya Amin, executive director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana, called the reported vandalism a “cowardly and disgusting act” that affects all of Indiana’s residents.
“It is time to branch out and send a message to our legislators that Hoosiers will not tolerate acts of hate against any community … It is finally time for Indiana to put hate crime legislation on the books,” Amin said at the gathering, eliciting applause from the audience.
The Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, a local chapter of a national advocacy organization, also called on lawmakers to pass a comprehensive hate crimes law.
“A nation’s laws should reflect its social contract with all of its citizens,” the Indianapolis JCRC said in a statement. “Adding a law addressing crimes based on prejudice would help align our laws with American values, and would send a strong message that hate-based violence in Indiana is anathema to our state’s fundamental values of freedom and equality.”
The Anti-Defamation League said it is offering a $2,500 reward for information about those responsible for the graffiti.