BANGOR, Maine — Two coats of clean, white paint quickly hid the graffiti from view, but it was the outpouring of support from the community that helped bolster and heal the congregants at two Bangor synagogues struck by vandals a week ago, according to Rabbi Justin Goldstein of Beth Israel.
“I would just like to again express, on a personal level and on behalf of the entire Jewish community, how pleased, how impressed and how touched we all were by the amazing support that we were shown,” Goldstein said Friday during an interview at the synagogue.
Vandals applied graffiti sometime on the night of Sept. 21 at Beth Israel and Beth Abraham congregations on York Street. Among the symbols and tags they used were swastikas — a symbol that came to represent Nazi Germany and the genocide and oppression of Jews during World War II — and an upside-down cross with the numbers “666” positioned at the top and sides.
After news stories about the graffiti were published in the Bangor Daily News, the synagogues quickly began receiving calls, visitors, mail and Facebook posts from individuals and businesses providing supportive words or offers to help clean up, Goldstein said.
Three 17-year-old boys were arrested Tuesday and charged by Bangor police in connection with the vandalism. Two of the boys, from Bangor, face charges of felony aggravated criminal mischief. The third, from Orrington, faces a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief/vandalism, Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said Wednesday.
Police said the boys also were linked to graffiti that popped up in other parts of the city over the course of the summer.
The synagogue vandalism happened 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 Maine attorney general’s office is reviewing the incident to determine whether or not Maine’s Civil Rights Act was violated and whether to issue injunctions against the teens involved, the office’s spokeswoman, Brenda Kielty, said Thursday.
A section of that statute prohibits desecration or defacement of property motivated by a bias toward race, color, religion, sexual orientation or other difference.
If the attorney general finds there has been a civil rights violation, the office can issue an injunction that would bar the teens from going to certain places or doing certain things under penalty of further criminal charges.
Since 1992, the attorney general’s office has handed down more than 200 injunctions based on civil rights claims, according to Kielty. Those injunctions have been violated just eight times, Kielty said, “and all of those resulted in significant jail sentences.”
She said statistics show that injunctions are effective in preventing repeat civil rights violations.
Goldstein said, on a personal level, he would rather not see civil rights action taken against the teens.
“I think that is a severe punishment,” Goldstein said, “and I would rather see them move toward rehabilitation and education rather than imposing fines and penalties.”
The Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office also will review the incident, Assistant District Attorney Jim Aucoin, who handles juvenile cases for the office, said Friday.
Aucoin said it was difficult to guess ahead of time what punishment might be in store for the boys if found guilty. When it comes to juveniles, “there’s no cookie-cutter answer for anything,” he said.
“A felony could get them up to Mountain View if they have a history,” Aucoin said, referring to the juvenile corrections facility in Charleston. Edwards said after the initial arrests that none of the teens had a criminal history.
One of the three boys was arrested for the third time in three days earlier this week. In addition to his initial arrest for the synagogue vandalism, he was arrested Wednesday for allegedly tagging a stop sign along with another teen from Hampden. He was taken into custody again Thursday afternoon, this time for stealing paint markers from a hardware store.
Police later took him to Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston.
The sentences for the teens could range from probation to a short jail sentence to community service, Aucoin said. The boys likely will appear in court in late October or early November, he said.
Goldstein said, though it’s up to the district attorney and attorney general to decide the sentence, he would lean in favor of community service. He said he intends to spend the next couple of weeks organizing “a citywide graffiti cleanup” with other local clergy, churches and residents. He said he hopes the teens arrested for the synagogue vandalism will be involved.
Goldstein said he hopes the teens learn that actions sometimes have ramifications which are unintended. The boys may have been trying to do something “shocking or surprising.”
“The result was actually very real pain and fear,” he said.