Healing after hatred Tacoma congregation reflects on hate crime
Saturday, September 7, 2002
The first hate-crime at Temple Beth El happened right after Sept. 11 and just before the Jewish High Holy Days. Someone spray-painted "Zionism plus U.S. equals 5,000 dead" on the parking lot.
The second occurred the following weekend. Two flaming, fire-starting logs were placed at the back of the synagogue -- one beneath a natural-gas line. No one was hurt.
The timing was especially painful for the congregation, coming during the most solemn period of the Jewish year.
This year's holidays began at sundown Friday, and the congregation intends to reflect on the challenges of the last 12 months and pray for better times in the year ahead.
No arrests have been made in either hate crime.
"Despite all the scary and horrible things that have happened, it's a good time to be alive," said Rabbi Mark Glickman, who leads the Reform synagogue -- the only Jewish congregation in Tacoma.
The 10-day period of self-examination starts with the Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashana. It ends Sept. 16 with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when Jews communally admit their sins and reconcile with God.
Jews believe that during the holidays, God determines who will live and die in the coming year. Despite the gravity of the period, rabbis urge congregants to observe the holidays optimistically, assuming God will accept their repentance. Jews dip apples in honey at Rosh Hashana meals as they wish for a sweet year.
Temple Beth El congregants will follow that tradition.
"We can't let these people frighten us," said Wendy Stricherz, vice president of the board of the synagogue, which counts about 350 families as members.
The parking lot vandals hit at midnight last Sept. 16, the day before Rosh Hashana began, with a message suggesting a link between U.S. support for Israel and the terrorist attacks that left more than 3,000 dead.
The second assault on the synagogue came before dawn last Sept. 23, three days before Yom Kippur. Flames flickered up the walls toward the roof before an alert neighbor summoned fire crews. The damage was minor.
Glickman was awakened at about 1:30 a.m. with news of the blaze.
"At the time, it was kind of scary right between our two big holidays," he said. "Some people were very frightened. We had to do a lot of reassuring."
The congregation added security and got support from a Tacoma interfaith group called the Associated Ministries, which held a candlelight vigil at the synagogue that drew 500 people.
Glickman spoke at the rally, addressing his remarks to the unknown person who started the fire. "You may have thought that fire could destroy, but tonight we here are going to light flames of love and care," he said.
The outpouring at the vigil and from area Christians was "so heartwarming and beautiful," Glickman said recently. "It's inspirational."
But the attacks weren't the first on the synagogue. In previous years, Glickman's car was damaged and Nazi swastikas were burned into the synagogue lawn.
Jim Friedman, the board's personnel chairman, said that when such incidents occur, congregants debate how to respond. They do not want to draw so much attention to the crime that it inspires copycat attacks, but "we're not going to go quietly, either," he said.
Before Glickman delivered his Yom Kippur sermon last year, the rabbi discussed the fire and how the non-Jewish community rallied around the congregation. He urged members of the synagogue not to let the attacks on their building distract them from observing the holiday.
"I said, 'Look, we're going to go on and do this, not because of what they did -- not to spite them, but despite them. We're going to do this anyway. To do otherwise would be to give them a victory," he said.
Jewish leaders said they expect rabbis nationwide will devote at least one sermon to terrorism and the Reform branch is distributing a special package of Sept. 11 materials that includes everything from modern poems to excerpts from President Franklin Roosevelt's 1941 "Four Freedoms" speech to a Muslim prayer for peace.
Glickman said his sermons this year will "address living in a post-Sept. 11 world" and how to move beyond hate crimes like the ones committed at the synagogue.
"We remember it, it was a frightening experience -- and we go on," Glickman said. "If we can survive pogroms and the Spanish Inquisition, and, and, and -- the whole litany of persecutions we've survived over the years -- we can certainly survive this, too."