It's a form of incendiary hatred that has been around throughout recorded history: Vandals under cover of darkness or with the tacit sanction of a cloaked authority desecrate a
With sudden and increasing regularity, reports of against a of religious symbols and houses of worship have spread across Long Island and beyond recently.
Experts, police and local religious leaders do not believe the incidents are related to a single hate group or sinister underground movement. Instead, they attribute the majority of them to a societal atmosphere that allows such ignorance to exist and be perpetuated.
These acts should not engender fear, police and clergymen alike agree: only steely, unwavering resolve.
And they're doing something about it. On Friday afternoon, a Huntington mosque, recently desecrated at least twice, will be the setting for the latest rally against blind hatred and bigotry. As with similar recent events, a will publicly rebuke this and all forms of bias attacks.
"It is incumbent upon public figures, religious leaders and educators to speak out against acts of vandalism in general and vandalism directed at religious institutions," said Rabbi , spiritual leader of Plainview's , who said the United States has had a long history of preserving religious rights and freedoms championed by leaders ranging from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
His statement was echoed by community leaders and clergymen across Long Island and beyond.
"Hate crimes are affecting many communities on Long Island and in Suffolk County this type of crime has become to commonplace, including a nationally recognized incident which ended the life of Latino immigrant Marcelo Lucero," said , a member of the Mosque.
The historical context of hate crimes is essential to understand why these acts of vandalism are so significant to a segment of the population.
"Hate directed against any community can paralyze people," said Etzion Neuer, the Anti-Defamation League's director of community service and policy in Manhattan, pointing to attacks on Long Island's immigrant community. "At times like this, we have to bond and stand together."
Sixty years after the defeat of Hitler's Germany, the unprecedented attrocities of the Nazi Holocaust have been "watered down" within political discourse: "When someone's unhappy with another's position, they invoke Hitler," Neuer said. "At a time when our survivor population is dwindling, we have to remember what happened."
Remembering the past must not be limited to any one group:
"This is a big deal and we must treat even the smallest incident as having lethal consequences," said the, pastor of in Plainview. "It only takes a spark to create a raging inferno. We need to stamp out ignorance and hatred by smothering them with love and understanding."
Jews have a particularly heightened awareness and sensitivity to these types of attacks, as we have been fighting anti-Semitism throughout our history," said , spiritual leader of in Old Bethpage. "In the years since the Holocaust we have vowed to 'Never Again' allow conditions to become so severe that we or any other religious, racial or ethnic group should suffer the scapegoating and genocides that the Jewish people have fallen prey to."
Younger generations may not understand the Holocaust's profound impact on previous generations. Still, Jews who lived through the Holocaust know its horrors: "For Jews of a certain generation, there is a profound sense of unease," Neuer said.
That is understandable, given the litany of hate crimes reported in the metropolitan area recently, including:
- An outdoor on Gerhard Road in Plainview on the last day of the Festival of Lights, on either Dec. 26-27.
- That same week, graffiti was scrawled on buildings along Sea Cliff's Main Avenue near St. Boniface School. Detectives said swastikas, the marijuana reference: “420,” the Klu Klux Klan moniker “White Knight” and the letters “WK” were discovered.
- A statue of the Infant Jesus disappeared from the Nativity scene in front of St. Mary’s Church in Roslyn Harbor on Dec. 30.
- The following week in Sea Cliff, another swastika was drawn in black marker on a Glen Avenue resident's garage door.
- In Great Neck, swastikas were scratched into a 1998 Mercedes Benz parked at the Babylonian Jewish Center, sometime overnight on Jan. 6-7.
- Most recently, police charged a Centerport man with throwing a glass bottle into Huntington's Masjid Noor Mosque driveway from his vehicle.
Other hate crimes in the region appear more sinister. Neuer described the Jan. 2 firebombing of a Queens mosque as "very alarming."
And, the firebombing of the home in Northern New Jersey Jan. 11 appeared targeted at a rabbi and his family's whose residence was attached to a synagogue. Authorities are hunting those responsible.
"One would hope they are not coordinated," said of Community Synagogue in Port Washington, of the Long Island attacks and those in the broader Metropolitan region. "What's more important than isolated incidents is how do the authorities within the community respond."
"Law enforcement seems to believe that they are all independent – not connected," added the ADL's Neuer.
While that may be reassuring, Neuer warned the recent outbreak "suggests that there are many people on the Island who feel free to act out on their hatred."
Zeplowitz insists the key to defeating these elements is for the authorities and the community to stand up to acts of hate. Regardless of one's faith, community members must stand for "tolerance and diversity," Rabbi Zeplowitz said, pointing out that these elements were advocated by Martin Luther King, Jr.
For Senter and others, the solution is education and dialogue:
"It is our responsibility to educate ourselves regarding the cultures that surround us," said Senter, who has been in the vanguard of and in Plainview. "As the demographics of Long Island shift...each of us is challenged to look at new populations with love and compassion and a desire to know each other."
"If we allow bias to enter our hearts it will ultimately consume us," said Rabbi Senter. "If we truly embrace the concept of 'One Nation under God...there will be no space in our hearts for hatred."