(photo credit: JTA [file])
Friday's vandalism of Vladivostok's only synagogue reflects a growing trend of xenophobia and neo-Nazi association in the region, according to Rafael Heltzer, Jewish Agency emissary to the Russian Far East.
"There's a lot of neo-Nazi activity in the suburbs," Heltzer told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. While he doesn't believe it is well organized, "all sorts of youth and teenagers are drawn to it. There's a lot of xenophobia also directed at Chinese residents."
Swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans were painted on the walls of the building. "Jews should go to Israel" read the graffiti scrawled on the building's side and on the door.
On January 19, journalist and Jewish Agency activist Konstantin Borovko was beaten to death by unknown assailants outside a pub in Vladivostok. While local police initially said the attack appeared to be a robbery gone awry, the investigation gave strong evidence that it was a hate crime targeting those the assailants believed to be homosexuals, with the attackers reportedly sporting neo-Nazi tatoos.
An Israeli citizen and a journalist at one of the city's largest television stations, Borovko, 25, ran several projects for the Jewish Agency and was a well-known figure in the Jewish community.
In September, a synagogue in Khazarov, the capital of the Russian Far East, was attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails and was also defaced with neo-Nazi graffiti.
"[Neo-Nazi] graffiti is very widespread in Khazarov," remarked Heltzer, "even though the region's Jewish community is almost nonexistent."
Despite the Friday attack, Purim festivities reportedly went on as planned in the synagogue, and a larger Purim celebration was held at a downtown theater on Sunday.
The synagogue is housed in a historically Jewish building confiscated by Soviet authorities in the 1930s. A year and a half ago, the building, at the time a chocolate factory, was reclaimed by the local Jewish community.
Rabbi Yisroel Silberstein of Chabad, the synagogue's rabbi, has been working to rebuild Jewish life in the city with a Jewish community numbering - by optimistic estimates - around 3,000.