The words “Merry Christmas,” plus a dollar sign, were spray-painted in green on the back walls of Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly on Saturday night, May 21. TBA is one of three synagogues defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti over the course of eight days; the others were in Andover and Pawtucket, R.I., both spray-painted with swastikas.
“We see this as an opportunity to deal with larger underlying issues,” said TBA’s Rabbi Adler of the hate crime. According to the rabbi, the police were called immediately regarding the incident. “We want to have a community conversation with the ADL about anti-Semitism because I don’t think it’s just about this.” That conversation was scheduled to be held at the temple and moderated by the Anti-Defamation League on June 2.
According to president Alan Pierce, a non-temple member was at TBA on Saturday night to pick up some materials and he saw the graffiti, took a picture of it and sent it to a friend who then posted it on Facebook. As a result the event became public before the Temple was informed and had a chance to decide how to respond.
The non-temple member called Executive Director Deborah Schutzman upon finding the graffiti, and according to the police report submitted by Officer Michael Backstrom of the Beverly Police Department (BPD), Schutzman called it in to the police.
Crime Analyst and Operations Officer Michael A. Boccuzzi of the BPD displayed evidence of other vandalism in the area within three days of each other. “Hokey is better” was spray-painted in red across a Beverly basketball court. “I h8t kids and don’t do drugs” was spray-painted on the Sea Wall, along with “Salem 16” and some vulgarity regarding Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, along with other crude language. “I don’t believe they were done by the same people,” said Officer Boccuzzi, despite the fact that in each instance, red, green, or black spray paint was used with what appears to be similar handwriting. Over a three-day span, there were several “tagging” events in a half-mile area.
“It’s probably a seven on the Richter scale of stupid,” said president Pierce. “It’s hateful, it’s hurtful, and it’s something that needs to wake up the community as to why this happens.”
The vandalism was immediately painted over. “There are some people that are very upset… they wanted to leave it up there,” said president Pierce. “We covered it over but we didn’t intend to cover it up,” he added. Rabbi Adler appeared distraught, defending the decision to paint over the vandalism. “I don’t want to walk into the building and see that,” she said.
Rabbi Adler and president Pierce met with Mayor Mike Cahill on Monday, May 23 to discuss the anti-Semitic incident. A photo and a response from Rabbi Adler and president Pierce were posted on the TBA website.
The response said, “As far as hate crimes go, this ranks up there with ‘stupid’ rather than vile… But it hits home.”
The vandalism gives the community a chance to have an honest conversation, in Rabbi Adler’s mind. “People have fears. I mean I do, I’m up at night worrying about what we’re sending our kids into,” said Rabbi Adler. She sees this as a signal to have a larger conversation about anti-Semitism that is happening in the larger community.
Rabbi Adler believes that the community should talk about this event in the context of anti-Semitism in our country. “It’s an over due conversation in some ways, and this is a trigger.” Alan Pierce added, “And it’s too bad it took a trigger.”