KESQ.com News Services
Vandals targeted a Jewish community center in Riverside, spray-painting Nazi symbols and anti-Jewish slogans on walls and windows, authorities reported.
“We are shocked. We are saddened. We are surprised,” said Rabbi Shmuel Fuss, who runs the Chabad Community Center, where vandals struck around 11 Thursday night. “We didn’t imagine this is something that would take place in Riverside.”
Since the center opened two years ago, there have been sporadic incidents that were cause for concern — but not on this scale, he said.
“We have received hate threats by phone, but nothing to this extent,” Fuss said. “We view this as a very serious threat … We fear for our safety.”
Vandals spray-painted swastikas, racial epithets and what appeared to be coded messages on the windows, doors and walls of the community center, located at 3579 Arlington Ave.
The graffiti included the phrase “Achtung Juden” painted on a door and the word “Jewish” crossed out nearby.
Irma Flores, a spokeswoman for the center, said some of the graffiti was written in Spanish, but rife with misspellings.
Witnesses reported seeing two teenage boys clad in dark clothing, possibly wearing sweatshirts, fleeing the scene, according to Riverside police Lt. Tim Bacon.
He said the vandals also spray-painted a car parked nearby, and similar graffiti was discovered in a pedestrian alley that parallels the Chabad center.
“We know that we have to move on and fight these people by not allowing them to control us,” Fuss said. “If we allow them to control us with fear, they win. Our job is to fight them by being proud and exposing people to our culture and traditions. Fear is the tool of thugs like this. But we won’t let them win.”
The 2,000-square-foot community center provides a range of educational and social services, catering to the public at large, as well as 20,000 Jewish families in the Inland Empire, according to Fuss.
“This is a center of goodness and kindness. Everybody’s welcome,” he said. “We’re here to do a good thing, and that’s why they chose us as a target.”
The rabbi said he hoped the vandals would be caught and “the right sentence will be passed on to them, so they’re not allowed back onto the street, to do this again to others.”
The Los Angeles-based Anti-Defamation League released a statement condemning the vandalism as a “message of hate to the entire Jewish community.”
“A crime such as this doesn’t merely affect one building, but is of concern to the entire community,” said ADL spokeswoman Alison Mayersohn.
The ADL and community center are jointly offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of the individuals responsible.
Fuss said security will be improved at the community center, but he would not elaborate.
A “Unity Gathering” is planned at the center Sunday at 4:30 p.m., involving residents, community activists and possibly local politicians, the rabbi said.
“We will be clear that we won’t tolerate this,” he said. “We are going to grow and share our message of pride, goodness and kindness, so people will learn more tolerance, understanding and respect.”