Swastikas were spray-painted on the front pillars of a Northeast Miami-Dade synagogue Monday morning, leaving the surrounding community on edge — especially after two cars in Miami Beach were defaced over the weekend.
“We have been violated,” said Rabbi Yerucham Benzinger of Torah V’Emunah, an Orthodox synagogue at 1000 NE 174th St. “It is something very painful to realize.”
The vandalism comes as the situation in the Middle East continues to deteriorate, with attacks on Israeli soldiers and the bombing in Gaza. The United Nations has declared the deadly conflict a humanitarian crisis, with more than 1,000 people killed in the last three weeks.
In South Florida, protests have been peaceful but pointed. A week ago, pro-Israeli activists made their voices heard in Miami Beach. On Monday, a demonstration including Gaza supporters took place.
“We are not here to justify Hamas; we find their tactics shameful,” said Guillermo Marquez-Sterling, participating in Monday’s demonstration in Doral.asking for a free Gaza and fair media coverage. “We are here because there are innocent children dying in Gaza and Israel has the power and ability to stop the conflict if they want to.”
But it’s the vandalism and its implied threats that worry local Jewish officials. Jacob Solomon, the president and CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, said Monday that the fighting in the Mideast has led to personal attacks close to home.
“Anti-Semtism is a disease other people suffer from and Jews are victimized by it,” he said.
He said a solidarity rally for Israel will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center at 18900 NE 25th Ave. in North Miami-Dade. “The only answer we know is to stay unified,” Solomon said.
With tensions running high, the anti-Semitic messages appearing in South Florida are a stark reminder of how tensions in the Middle East can be felt here, said Hava Holzhauer, the Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
“There is no place for hate,” she said. “Hate has no borders any more.”
Holzhauer said the ADL has received reports of only the two incidents in South Florida in recent weeks.
“They need to be investigated as hate crimes and dealt with accordingly,” she said, referring to the Northeast Miami-Dade and the Miami Beach incidents.
The first incident happened Saturday on the 4200 block of Meridian Avenue in Miami Beach, when a couple walking at about 6:30 a.m. spotted cream cheese smeared on a car spelling the words “Hamas” and “Jew.” Another car was egged.
That incident is being investigated as a hate crime, according to the police report.
The daughter of the cars’ owners, who only wanted to be identified as Rachel, said they were shocked by the incident.
“It’s not something you would ever expect here,” she said. “It definitely bothered us.”
She said hearing about the synagogue incident Monday was even more troubling.
“It makes you wonder if they are connected,” she said.
Miami-Dade police have not yet said whether the vandalism is connected. Police spokeswoman Robin Pinkard said Monday that the synagogue incident was reported as criminal mischief, not a hate crime.
At about 1:30 a.m., Yona Lunger, a city activist and member of the Shmira Patrol — a neighborhood watch group — was driving around when he saw the synagogue had been defaced with a swastika and the word “Hamas.” He called police and Rabbi Benzinger.
“This is a stab directly in the heart,” Lunger said. “This is something very hard for us to deal with.”
Lunger said the community has been on alert as the fighting continues afar. The patrol, originally formed to protect the pocket of unincorporated Northeast Miami-Dade near North Miami Beach from break-ins and other crimes, has stepped up its coverage in recent days.
Volunteers ride around the area, which has 11 synagogues over a mile stretch, and report suspicious incidents to police.
Benzinger, who has been rabbi for more than 30 years, said the vandalism is rooted in the Middle East conflict.
“It’s an epidemic,” he said. “It’s spreading.”