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A rash of vandalism targeting Jews in the 107th Precinct united religious and political leaders from all faiths Sunday on the steps of the Hillcrest Jewish Center, where they preached solidarity and called for the prompt arrest of the perpetrators.
City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who represents the district where the incidents occurred, joined Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) in pledging an award of $5,000 to anyone who offers information leading to the arrest and conviction of the vandals.
"What happened last week is not an attack on the Jewish community - it is an attack on the community in general," Weprin said before scores of people who gathered outside the Fresh Meadows synagogue to protest the acts of anti-Semitism.
Police reported three separate incidents in which private property was desecrated with swastikas over a two-day period in mid-April. On the morning of Friday, April 18, two car owners discovered that a swastika had been scrawled on their vehicles with a black felt pen - one on the driver's side door, the other on the passenger door, police said. Both acts occurred within two blocks of 164th Street and 69th Avenue.
The following night the garage door of a Jewish family's home 25 blocks away was defaced with a large swastika alongside the words "All Jews Must Die" - a blown-up photograph of which Weprin carried at the rally.
Politicians said a week later the windshield of a Hatzoloh Jewish ambulance was smashed by a brick as it sat parked outside Young Israel of Hillcrest, an incident that was discovered Friday by an ambulance volunteer.
The vandals struck at a sacred time in the Jewish faith, when families were not only celebrating Passover but also preparing for the solemn observance of Yom Hashoah, which commemorates the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust.
"We're not just remembering," Gennaro said. "We're actively seeking to excise this horrible cancer of hate, which has been visited on our community."
More than half a century after the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps, wounds are still fresh in the minds of many Queens residents who survived Hitler's campaign to exterminate the Jews.
Anita White of Fresh Meadows pointed to a scar she bears on the right side of her eye, the result of a pistol whipping she endured as she was rounded up in Poland in 1941. She survived and came to the United States in 1946.
"To see a swastika cuts through my heart," White said at the end of the rally. "When I see a swastika now, I say 'how can that happen here in this beautiful country of freedom and love?'"
Many warned that if such hateful vandalism goes unopposed and unpunished, it may proliferate into something worse.
"Let us remember that Kristallnacht began with one swastika; it began with one broken glass," said U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), alluding to the "night of the broken glass" in 1938 that is considered the start of the Holocaust. "Whenever one of us is a victim of a crime like this, we all must stand."
"If an act of hatred is not challenged, it can grow, it can blossom," said Rabbi Michael Miller of the Jewish Community Relations Council, a citywide Jewish organization.
But the etching of the swastikas sparked an outcry that spread far beyond Holocaust survivors and the Jewish community.
Among the speakers at Sunday's rally were Monsignor Joseph Stafford of the Holy Family Parish, Imam Moulana Arefin of the Jamaica Muslim Center, and Uma Sengupta, a Democratic district leader who is the first Indian woman elected to a statewide office in New York.
"For these acts to take place at this very special time is most repugnant," Stafford said. "We live with you and when things like this occur, we suffer with you."
Anyone with information about the vandalism should contact Detective Del Valle of the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force at 646-610-5267.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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