Maine churches, Michaud reach out to Bangor synagogues hit by vandals

Vandals struck both the Beth Israel and Beth Abraham Synagogues on York Street in Bangor sometime early Friday night by spray painting offensive symbols and graffiti on the pillars and staircases of both buildings.
Vandals struck both the Beth Israel and Beth Abraham Synagogues on York Street in Bangor sometime early Friday night by spray painting offensive symbols and graffiti on the pillars and staircases of both buildings.
Posted Sept. 25, 2012, at 6:40 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — As Bangor police continued their investigation Tuesday into last weekend’s vandalism of two York Street synagogues, Maine churches and a member of the state’s congressional delegation issued statements condemning the action.

On Friday, a vandal or vandals spray painted anti- Semitic and Satanic graffiti on the two synagogues. The graffiti consisted of Nazi swastikas — an anti-Semitic symbol — and an upside-down cross with the numbers “666” — known as the sign of the devil — placed across the top.

Some of the offensive symbols were seen on the steps and pillars of Congregation Beth Israel and Beth Abraham Synagogue early Friday night. Others were added later.

The incidents remained under investigation Tuesday by the Bangor Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division, according to Sgt. Paul Edwards.

“As of right now, we are still actively investigating the graffiti cases and have had several tips from the public that have been very helpful,” Edwards said Tuesday.

The symbols were applied during the Jewish High Holy Days, a 10-day period of prayer that starts with Rosh Hashanah — the first day of the Jewish year and anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve — and ends with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.

The graffiti shocked and saddened not only the area Jewish community but others as well.

“Graffiti is one thing, but when it starts becoming swastikas on synagogues, it’s no longer just graffiti. It’s a hate crime,” said Norman Minsky, a Bangor attorney whose family members were affected by the Nazis during World War II.

“[It] is a sad reminder that anti-Semitism is alive,” Derrek L. Shulman, regional director of Anti-Defamation League New England, said in a statement released Sunday.

On Tuesday, the Maine Council of Churches, a statewide ecumenical association of nine Maine denominations, issued a statement condemning the vandalism and calling on Christians to pray for peace as Yom Kippur begins Tuesday night.

“The Maine Council of Churches deplores the defacing of Beth Abraham and Beth Israel synagogues … with spray-painted swastikas and other symbols long associated with anti-Semitism,” the council said. “We are especially saddened and disturbed that this incident, whether vandalism or an intentional hate crime, happened in the midst of the Jewish High Holy Days.

“The long and too often lamentable history of Jewish-Christian relations, including the history of the member denominations of the council, put a special obligation on us and on all Christians to remember that history, to teach it to our children and to stand in solidarity with those who have been targeted and harmed,” the statement read. “While the synagogue communities themselves are most directly affected, when something like this happens it happens to all of us, and the bonds of trust and goodwill within the larger community.”

As Yom Kippur was set to begin at sunset, the council’s executive director, the Rev. Jill Job Saxby, called upon all Christians and justice-and-peace-seeking people in Maine to “pause, to think of our Jewish neighbors and to offer prayers for forgiveness of our own shortcomings, for justice for the perpetrators and victims of hate crimes and for shalom for the whole community of Maine.”

Also on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud issued a statement of his own.

“I join members of the synagogues and the entire greater Bangor region in condemning this vandalism. This is more than just graffiti. These actions and symbols of hate and intolerance are deeply offensive and have no place in our society,” the 2nd District Democrat said.

“I encourage anyone who has information about these incidents to come forward so the police can hold these vandals accountable,” Michaud said, adding, “I hope all of the Bangor community will join me in supporting the Jewish community as they observe the High Holidays.”

“I still think someone knows who did this,” Edwards said. “I’m certain that someone, besides the person who did this, knows who did this. We would like that person to do the right thing” and report the crime.

The Bangor City Council recently held discussions on graffiti and ways to limit instances and penalize offenders, known as “taggers.” In addition, Maine already has hate crime laws that cover the desecration and defacement of places of worship.

Anyone with information about the vandalism is asked to call the Bangor Police Department at 947-7382. The department’s anonymous tip line can be reached by pressing ext. 6.

BDN writers Andrew Neff and Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.

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