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Person Of Interest Identified In Fires That Destroyed Jewish Religious Items

Mezuzah Burning Person Of Interest

A person of interest connected to the burning of 12 mezuzot in a Brooklyn housing development. (Credit: NYPD)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Police released photos of a person of interest Tuesday night in the burning of a dozen sacred Jewish religious symbols in Brooklyn over two days.

On Monday, 11 families living at  the Independence Towers housing development at 85 Taylor St. discovered that vandals had burned their mezuzot, on the 70th anniversary of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less.

Just after 1 p.m. Tuesday, another mezuzah was found burned outside an apartment at 130 Clymer St., in the same housing development.

The person of interest was described as a male Hispanic between 20 and 25 years old, wearing a purple do-rag, and a black jacket with an “NY” symbol on the shoulder and “New York” across the chest.”

Neighbor David Greenblatt said the surveillance images came as a relief.

“Yes it is, because it means that we’re going to pursue such crimes, and hopefully, that will deter them,” Greenblatt said. “That’s what we need.”

The outrage was compounded on the second day of the vandalism, which was widely considered a likely hate crime.

“I was a little bit shocked to see what’s going on again. The next building? What is it going to happen again?” neighbor Pessie Gelb said Tuesday.

“I think it’s real horrible,” added neighbor Lydia Pena. “You shouldn’t touch nothing that doesn’t belong to you.”

A mezuzah – mezuzot in plural form – is a piece of parchment inscribed with the prayer “Shema Yisroel,” which is affixed to door frames in Jewish homes. They are said to be symbols of God’s protection over the home.

A Mezuzah that was found burned on the door of an apartment in Brooklyn on Monday, April 8, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

A Mezuzah that was found burned on the door of an apartment in Brooklyn on Monday, April 8, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

“It’s devastating,” said resident Raizy Fogel. “It’s very sad and such things shouldn’t happen.”

Fogel said the desecrated religious items were being targeted to send a message around Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The message, Fogel said, is “that we are unwanted here, and I don’t know why.”

Residents said just last year, vandals spray-painted swastikas outside the buildings.

City and community leaders united Monday and Tuesday, demanding more be done to protect the residents and their homes from hate and violence.

“These fires were hate crimes and they were perpetrated by a coward or cowards,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said.

“An action like this is absolutely disgusting, it cannot be tolerated,” said Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin (D-33rd.) “For something like this to happen, it really strikes deep in terms of its hurtfulness and the malice that’s involved.”

“Nothing but hatred can explain why someone would burn Mezuzahs on Yom Hashoah, the day we remember the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “This is a sickening act of prejudice that strikes at the very core of who we are as a city.”

“This kind of disgusting hatred has no place in Brooklyn, a borough that was built on diversity. And to desecrate mazuzahs on the day we remember those who died during the Holocaust is unforgivable,” state Sen. Eric Adams said. “When the perpetrators of this hate crime are caught — and I’m confident they will be — they should face the maximum penalty under the law.”

“This is a blatant act of anti-Semitism with a clear attempt to instill fear and intimidate the victims in their homes,” said Etzion Neuer, the Anti-Defamation League’s acting New York regional director.

Meanwhile, many residents of all faiths living together in this largely Orthodox Jewish community were downplaying any racial tensions, denying the burnings pitted neighbor against neighbor.

“I don’t know if it’s coming from outside people trying to make it so we could fight, but it’s not coming from here,” Pena said.

No one was hurt in the incidents, but the apartment door jambs to which the mezuzot were affixed will have to be repaired and in some cases, replaced.

Anyone who knows the whereabouts of the person of interest is asked to call NYPD Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS, submit tips to the Crime Stoppers Web site, or text tips to 274637 (CRIMES) and enter TIP577.

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