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Monday, January 12, 2009

Chicago synagogues hit by hate crime spree

Vandals struck four Chicago-area synagogues early Saturday morning, shattering glass doors and windows with bricks and rocks and spray-painting anti-Israel graffiti.

The caretakers at Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation in the normally quiet village of Lincolnwood just outside Chicago woke up to the sound of shattering glass and saw two adults running through the synagogue's parking lot in ski masks. Four bricks were thrown through the building's front doors, but the vandals were unable to gain entry.

"Death to Israel Free Palestine," was the message left behind on the walls in bright orange spray paint.

Similar incidents occurred around the same time not far away at three synagogues and schools in Chicago's West Rogers Park, a neighborhood dominated by Orthodox Jews. Two windows were shattered at Young Israel of West Rogers Park, "Death to Israel" was spray-painted on the wall of Congregation Anshe Motele and rocks broke a glass window at the Lubavitch Mesivta school.

Lubavitch Mesivta's Rabbi Moshe Perlstein told the Chicago Sun-Times that cameras captured video of the men damaging his school at around 4:40 a.m. The footage shows one man spray-painting the side of the building while the other ran around to the front and threw rocks at the front door, breaking a glass window, he said. The video has been turned over to police.

Lincolnwood and Chicago police and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force will check whether there was a connection between Saturday's incidents and the December 29 throwing of a Molotov cocktail into Temple Sholom, one of Chicago's oldest and most ornate synagogues, in the Lakeview neighborhood.

The city's Ida Crown Jewish Academy high school received a mailed bomb threat two weeks ago that warned of attacks at other Chicago-area Jewish institutions, including day schools.

A pro-Israel rally was held at Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation on Sunday afternoon to respond to the spate of hate crimes and support Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. The synagogue's rabbi, Joel Lehrfield, called the perpetrators of the hate crime "cowardly thugs who support Hamas."

"We're more worried about Israel than we are about ourselves," Lehrfield said.

Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago executive vice president Michael Kotzin said it was ironic that he was on a solidarity mission in southern Israel when he heard about the attacks back home.

"I wouldn't say that we're in the front lines in Chicago like here, but there are people who are hostile to and hate Jews here and there, and we have to address it," Kotzin said. "It's important that law enforcement takes it seriously. But we won't be frightened or intimidated, just like the people of Israel. Their behavior strengthens us."

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