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Chicago-area synagogue and school vandalized

Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012 11:04 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO (MCT) — Anti-Semitic words spray-painted at a North Side synagogue and Jewish school early Wednesday were covered with tarps and later blasted from bricks and sidewalk in an effort to shield students from the hate-filled phrases, officials said.

“The kids have had a normal day in school, and they have been protected from this,” said Senior Rabbi Michael Siegel of Anshe Emet Synagogue. “Certainly we’re not going to let any one person or any group interrupt the important things we do here.”

The vandalism was reported to police about 6 a.m. Wednesday.

The graffiti appeared a little more than a week after a rabbi and three children were gunned down at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, an incident that Siegel said he thinks inspired the graffiti.

“All these things are connected, and whether this is a copycat or part of a larger organized plan, I can’t say, but the connection is unmistakable,” Siegel said. “Actions lead to more actions, words to more words.”

Police were reviewing synagogue surveillance video to try to identify the vandal, said Officer John Mirabelli, a Chicago police spokesman.

Surveillance video appears to indicate that one person, believed to be a woman, is responsible for graffiti that was found in at least five spots around the synagogue and school, Siegel said. A person is seen walking around and vandalizing the building from 12:47 a.m. to 1:14 a.m.

“We weren’t able to make out any of the features of the person, but it does look like a woman,” he said.

Others are seen walking through the area at the same time as the vandal, and officials are asking anyone who may have seen anything suspicious around the synagogue to come forward.

The American Jewish Committee in Chicago called the vandalism just before Passover “a sad reminder of the persistence of anti-Semitism.”

“All words have consequences, and we should keep that in mind as we call upon all people of good faith to speak out against the vandalism,” said AJC Chicago director Dan Elbaum.

The Anshe Emet congregation is one of the oldest in Chicago, dating to 1873, AJC said. Siegel said Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended the school, and his children also went there for a time.

Siegel said he thinks the vandal was attempting to use the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle East as an excuse to spread anti-Semitism.

“What it’s really doing is attempting to justify anti-Semitism under the guise of humanitarianism,” he said. In one area, the graffiti read, “Murder Jews, Save Pal.”

“There are legitimate conversations and criticisms in the state of Israel, everyone appreciates that, but then there are statements that are nothing but ugly, anti-Semitic, age-old canards, and we need to be able to distinguish both,” Siegel said. “Words do matter.”

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