Members of Baltimore synagogue speak out after finding swastika

Jewish leaders and Baltimore officials linked arms to pray Sunday after a swastika appeared on a sign belonging to the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

The appearance of the Nazi symbol is believed to be the latest in a nationwide series of attacks on Jewish centers — this one less than two weeks after the museum on Lloyd Street opened an exhibit called "Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity."

More than 50 people linked arms to pray and to speak out against the act Sunday morning near the sign at B'Nai Israel: The Downtown Synagogue. Rabbi Etan Mintz organized the event and invited several local officials, including City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, council members Zeke Cohen and Robert Stokes, and Del. Brooke Lierman.

"While it's only a small piece of defamation, we felt as a community that it was important to come out and to raise a voice and to say that love will overcome hate," Mintz said. "Words are words, whether they're written, whether they're spoken. But ultimately they lead to deeds. We have to make sure voices are heard saying this is not OK."

It wasn't lost on Mintz that the swastika appeared shortly after the museum opened its exhibit on Auschwitz, where Nazis killed an estimated 1 million Jews.

"The irony is deeply powerful," he said.

Rabbi Daniel Burg, of Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill, noted that the vandal had also scrawled the word "shalom" next to the swastika in Sharpie. The Hebrew word, a Jewish greeting, means "peace," which Burg said can only be achieved when people stand up for what is right.

"Peace is only achieved when we come from a place of strength, when we come from a place of our sense of who we are and what we stand for," Burg said. "This is a time to stand together, not only as a Jewish community, but with other marginalized communities: women who have been denigrated in these past months, people of color, immigrants, refugees."

"This is our moment to stand together and to say we as a Jewish community will not countenance this sort of behavior," he said. "We will not be intimidated by a culture of fear."

More than 150 threats have been made against Jewish institutions in more than 30 states this year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Jewish Community Center in Owings Mills and a Jewish day school in Annapolis are among the many across the country to receive bomb threats. Maryland's congressional delegation has called for a federal investigation.

"It's become really overwhelming," Lierman said. "But I was also heartbroken that something like this would happen in our community, in District 46. The Jewish Museum, Lloyd Street, B'Nai Israel — the work that you all do here for Jonestown and for the whole city couldn't be more important."

Baltimore Police Capt. Jarron Jackson said he saw a silver lining in the incident. He'd just finished his first week as captain, and hadn't had a chance to visit the synagogue until Sunday.

"What it does, that these monsters don't realize, is it brings us closer together," Jackson said. "Had this act of hate not happened, I would not have met all of you today. So out of this negativity, we're going to find the love, as the rabbi said. We're going to find friendship and fellowship."

Cohen said many people in his family were killed in concentration camps during the Holocaust. He said his great grandmother came from Austria on "the last boat out of Europe."

"She left to escape symbols like the one we saw over there," Cohen said, gesturing at the sign. "She came to this country to build a better life."

He said he planned to introduce a City Council resolution Monday to reaffim that Baltimore is a welcoming city.

Young called the vandalism a "cowardly act," and urged police to examine surveillance footage from cameras in the area.

"Hate is not something that we represent," he said. "We stand here in unity with the Jewish community, who are our brothers and sisters, to let you know that we won't tolerate this type of behavior from anyone."

Hindah and Jared Weissbrot, former members of B'Nai Israel who now live in Pikesville, brought their three children, ages 6, 4 and 1, to the demonstration Sunday.

"It's a good lesson to show our children," Hinda Weissbrot said. "You don't hide. You stand up and say, 'This goes against our Jewish values. This goes against our community.'"

"The way to fight this," her husband added, "is to come out and show up."

Baltimore Sun reporter Brittany Britto and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

@cmcampbell6

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