Residents, Officials Believe Vandalism In Brooklyn Was A Hate Crime

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Nearly a dozen Jewish families in Brooklyn were targeted by vandals who torched symbols of their faith, and they did it on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The vandalism was under investigation as a hate crime Monday night, CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis reported.

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Police said 11 mezuzot on apartment door jambs inside 85 Taylor St. in South Williamsburg were burned on Monday. The building is home to a community of Orthodox Jews who said they’ve been victimized by hate.

“It’s very bad, of course,” said one man who lives in the building. “But I don’t know if, like, they’re pointing out something specific, or, I’m not going to be pointing, I don’t know.”

Neighbors said the vandalism happened sometime during the day in the building, which is part of the Independence Towers housing project.

They called Jewish community officers first, and then the NYPD. Officers have been investigating the torchings, leaving their calling cards, and interviewing neighbors who are convinced they have been targeted.

When one neighbor was asked if she thought anti-Semitism was behind the vandalism, she said, “Yes, definitely.”

The woman would not appear on camera, but said she came home around 5:30 p.m. Monday to find her mezuzah desecrated by fire.

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. The destruction was an ironic twist given the purpose of the mezuzah, the woman said.

The mezuzah “keeps us safe” as protection from God over the home, the woman said.

“I’m telling you, this is unheard of,” she said. “This is a democratic place, America.”

Among those outraged was Brooklyn City Councilman Stephen Levin (D-33rd).

“An action like this is absolutely disgusting. It is,” Levin said. “It cannot be tolerated.”

Levin told 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon the desecration was clearly deliberate.

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“For something like this to happen, it really strikes deep in terms of its hurtfulness and the malice that’s involved,” he said.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio also said a hate crime was the only explanation, and he noted that the vandalism took place on a day of great solemnity for those of the Jewish faith.

“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,” he said in a statement. “This is a sickening act of prejudice that strikes at the very core of who we are as a city.”

De Blasio added, “Make no mistake: we will find those responsible.”

And other neighbors whose doors were not vandalized said they felt violated and offended just the same.

“It’s not fair to do it, because for us, it is a big thing,” said neighbor Pessie Gelb. “It’s a big thing.”

Gelb said people of different backgrounds in the public housing development need to make a better effort to get along.

“It might be a hate crime, you know – we live near each other. We have to understand each other,” she said.

Police Arson and Explosion Squad and FDNY investigators were looking at the damage for clues.

There are a number of surveillance cameras in the building, and police were also checking them to find the person or persons responsible. But the cameras are of limited use, since they are mostly in public areas such as the lobbies, the elevators and the stairwells.

Still, police said Monday night they are confident they will find the person or people responsible so the community can feel safe again.

De Blasio urged anyone with information about the incident to call the NYPD Crime Stoppers line at (800) 577-TIPS.

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