livni lulav 224.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni shook the lulav and etrog on Sunday on the steps of a Brooklyn synagogue where the congregation awoke last week to find swastikas scrawled throughout the neighborhood.
The symbols, spray-painted on the steps of Chabad synagogue, Congregation B'nai Avraham and its neighboring Reform Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, were discovered just a few days before the start of Succot, while leaflets with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel slogans were placed on neighborhood cars.
"When anti-Semitism raises its ugly head, we need a quick and strong answer," said Livni, standing outside the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. "This is the right message to those who try to exploit tolerance and values."
Livni was joined by New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who said the city was one of the most tolerant in the country.
"One thing we won't tolerate is this type of vengeful behavior," said Kelly.
A 20-detective task force was assigned to investigate the incident. The 23 different markings were believed to be the work of one individual.
"So far all leads are negative," said Kelly.
Rabbis and members of the community expressed their gratitude to the police, who have been a constant presence in the neighborhood since the incident last week.
"They have been better than superlative," said Brooklyn Heights Synagogue Rabbi Serge Lippe.
Kelly also announced that with the help of the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council, the police would grant a $10,000 reward to anyone aiding in the capture of the perpetrator.
New York State is subject to more anti-Semitic incidents than anywhere else in the country, according to an annual report released by the Anti-Defamation League in March. Last year, there were a total of 284 incidents throughout the state.
But the incident was a first for this affluent, tight-knit Brooklyn neighborhood, which was taken aback by the anti-Semitic markings.
"I was totally shocked when I heard. This is something we are really not used to," said Jack Dehovitz, a Brooklyn Heights Synagogue member. "To have Livni come is a real statement of solidarity and speaks to the important role Israel plays in our lives."
Meanwhile, the incident has brought the community together full-force. When Lippe arrived at the synagogue on the morning after the vandalism, he had already received a letter from one of the churches in the neighborhood, expressing its support for the synagogue. Many other such letters continued to arrive in the following days. Within two days, banners reading, "We are all children of one God," were draped across the facades of every house of worship in the neighborhood.
"I suggested that we show as a community that we are what we preach," said Lippe, who on Sunday night will join the imam of the State Street Daoud Mosque as he breaks the Ramadan fast.
"We were annoyed and aggravated at the incident, but if the intention was to frighten us, it didn't work," said Lippe.
However, the neighboring synagogues differed in their approach to the vandalism.
Rabbi Aaron Raskin of B'nai Avraham suggested that last week's incidents might be linked to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York.
"The hatemongers came out because of his anti-Semitic premise and beliefs that the Holocaust never occurred," said Raskin.
Rabbis from both synagogues tried to link the outpouring of communal support to Succot.
The four species that make up a lulav represent unity, said Raskin. "We have to overcome bias and hate and see God in every person."
The Chabad synagogue, meanwhile, has been increasing its outreach to non-Jews since the incident. According to tradition, non-Jews are obligated by the seven Noahide Laws. Standing at a corner in the heart of Brooklyn, representatives from the synagogue were handing out cards with explanations of these laws, which include prohibitions against blasphemy and bowing down to idols, as well as against killing and stealing.
"This last prohibition includes respecting people's property," said Raskin.
"The theme of Succot is divine providence, which can be reflected in human care and when people look out for us," explained Lippe. "And that's exactly what we've experienced."