In the early hours of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, unknown vandals scrawled anti-Semitic words of hate on the walls of Temple Sinai in downtown Oakland.
Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin got the call shortly after 4:45 a.m. on Sept. 21 from the temple’s security firm. She rushed over to the synagogue at 2800 Summit St., and met up with congregational president Sam Schuchat, who had been called by the executive director.
There, low on the side of the building, were the words, “Fuck you Jewish Nazis.”
“So they’re stupid as well as obnoxious,” Schuchat told J.
Police were on the scene quickly, and are investigating the incident as a hate crime. Experts are reviewing video from surveillance cameras at the synagogue and from the surrounding neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Mates-Muchin came up with a plan: Cover the graffiti with butcher paper, and invite people to write “more inspiring messages,” Schuchat said. An emergency email sent to the congregation at 7 a.m. explained what happened and urged people to visit the wall and add their “words of love and friendship as guiding lights for the coming year.”
By 11 a.m., after the first service let out, the paper stretched along the side of the building was filled with multi-colored messages: “Shalom,” “Standing in Solidarity,” “We Love Oakland.”
Sixteen-year-old Eric Getreuer kneeled down and added his contribution: “The only thing stronger than hate is love.”
“My family has been members of Sinai since I was a baby,” he said. “The people who did this need to realize that our congregation has been here more than 100 years, and we don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.”
Terry Becker had to sit on the sidewalk to reach an empty space on the impromptu message board. She pointed with pride to what she wrote: “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”
Sara Stillman stood next to one end of the butcher paper as her two-year-old daughter Violet, who attends the temple’s preschool, drew a picture in crayon. When Stillman heard what the graffiti said, she gasped and teared up.
“I grew up in a synagogue where we had Holocaust survivors come talk to us,” she said. “They showed us their arms, they showed us their numbers. It seemed like a piece of history. To realize that history is not gone…”
She shook her head. “I thought it was history. And it’s not.”
Mates-Muchin was mingling with congregants and TV reporters at the scene, speaking softly to some who were visibly upset. She said that she addressed the incident during early morning services, and would do so again during the second session.
“I said, we have to celebrate our New Year,” she told J. “This is not going to define us as a community. We’ve been in Oakland 145 years, and this is our home. We project out love, peace, connection and support – that’s what we put out to the world.”
Looking at the butcher paper now covered end to end with messages from well-wishers, she smiled. “I’m overwhelmed by the reaction of our community.”