Thursday, May 14, 2009

Graffiti on Jewish sign troubles community

The rabbi of a Chandler Jewish center tagged with anti-Semitic graffiti this week said community members are troubled by the incident, which he hopes was only a lone teenager acting out.

Members of the Chabad of the East Valley learning center, southeast of Ray Road and McClintock Drive, are planning to build and move into a larger facility on a dirt lot to the west. Someone took a black marker Tuesday to a sign advertising the future Chabad House, leaving a couple of swastikas, the letters "WWWP," and a vulgar comment about Jews, according to Chandler police.

Mendy Deitsch, a rabbi at the Chandler Chabad, said the center has been in the area for about 10 years and has had no similar problems. In the wake of the graffiti, some of the center's non-Jewish neighbors called to express concern, he said.

"It's a very nice neighborhood," Deitsch said. "People were very bothered by seeing it, that people could do something like that in this day and age."

Detective Dave Ramer, a Chandler Police Department spokesman, said the incident took place Monday or Tuesday. The person left behind no evidence, and video surveillance from nearby businesses turned up nothing, he said.

Ramer said he's never seen an incident like it in Chandler before.

"Typically, what you do is look at trends. This is the only one that we know of in Chandler," he said.

Bill Straus, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit watchdog that tracks hate crimes, said the letters WWWP probably refer to "white power," which is associated with neo-Nazism. There has been an increase in the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the Valley in the last several months, he said.

"We see tagging with swastikas on a fairly common basis," Straus said.

Chandler doesn't stand out in the number of such incidents, and police responded admirably, he said. Several motorists had called the Anti-Defamation League after seeing the graffiti.

"Damage was minimal and nobody was hurt. Those are the top priorities," Straus said. "That doesn't mean it isn't serious."

In December, a suspicious package was mailed to the Chabad of Scottsdale that made reference to a terrorist attack in India that left more than 170 dead. A law enforcement bomb squad opened the package to find it contained only harmless papers.

Sgt. Mark Clark, Scottsdale Police Department spokesman, said the mailer turned out to be a former student of the Scottsdale center who had mental problems. No charges were filed.

"They determined relatively quickly after that, that there was no threat to it," Clark said. "He was just venting."

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