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July 15, 2011  RSS feed
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Text: T T T

Community response erases effect of hateful graffiti on shul

With ugly and hateful words and symbols, vandals defaced the outer walls of a not-yet opened synagogue in Mount Dora, a small, picturesque town about 30 miles northwest of Orlando.

With loving and beautiful sentiments, the community wiped away the ugliness and hatred. On Saturday morning, July 9, Rabbi Chayyim Solomon of the Traditional Congregation of Mount Dora had been expecting to pray and enjoy the Sabbath. He didn’t expect a visit from the chief of the Mount Dora Police Department, reported Heritage Florida Jewish News.

The paper reported that at about 7 a.m., a passerby had noticed anti- Semitic graffiti, including obscenities and symbols, painted all over the congregation’s newly renovated buildings, and reported it to police. The graffiti said, among other slurs, “F--- you Jews” and “I f--- Jews for fun.” It also included the word “Satan,” an upside-down cross, and what appeared to be a pentagram, the five-sided star commonly associated with both Satanism and with non-Satanic New Age paganism.

By the time Rabbi Solomon said his prayers and walked to the synagogue, what he encountered amazed him. Not only were there police and sheriff ’s officials on hand, but the mayor and a city councilman, several Christian clergymen and a group of citizens where there, already engaged in a well-organized cleanup effort.

An Orlando Sentinel story said dozens of people unconnected to the synagogue joined in the cleanup, bringing brushes, a paint blaster, buckets and steel wool pads.

“Our whole community has turned out,” city council member Vasco Watters told the Sentinel. The paper reported that the group “worked through heat, humidity and driving rain, vowing to keep at it until the offensive words and images had been scoured away and painted over.”

Members of the community continued to work through Sunday to repaint and repair the synagogue, and even helped the congregation move furniture from storage into the renovated building and made unasked-for cash donations, the Heritage Florida Jewish News reported.

The synagogue was about two weeks from opening for its first services, Rabbi Solomon wrote in a message titled “Response to Vandalism” on the congregation’s website.

Here are additional excerpts from his message:

“Mount Dora understood that it was not a synagogue that was defaced. It was the whole community that was vandalized. And the community responded. All while I just watched in amazement. My wife and I had felt alone and isolated as we sat, listening to the initial police report.

“We were worried about having to beat the bushes on Sunday, to rally folks to clean up and repair the damage so we could go on with finishing the building and actually start to use it. Instead, I found, when I arrived at the shul, an overwhelming outpouring of support and help. Unlooked for, unasked for (it was the Shabbath, after all), unexpected. But so, so welcome.

“We started a synagogue in Mount Dora because we believe Mount Dora was the right place for us,” he said. “What occurred in the wee hours was not Mount Dora. What occurred as the day went on. That was Mount Dora. Barukh Hashem - Thank God - Mount Dora is replete with good, good people.”

The Heritage Florida Jewish News reported that by Wednesday, July 13, police had charged a 20-year-old Mount Dora man in connection with the vandalism and were expecting to charge three others, a 22-year-old man, a boy, 16, and a girl, 17. The paper said that the man arrested Wednesday faces a hate crime enhancement on his charge that could send him to prison for up to 10 years. Reportedly, the suspects were identified after one of them bragged about the vandalism on a social media site.

The Heritage reported that since the incident, Solomon has been fielding calls from people saying how “grief-stricken” they are.

“You’ve got it wrong,” he tells them. “Something horrible happened, but that’s been wiped out tenfold by the response from the community.”

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