(July 17, 2020 / JNS) The County Sheriff’s Department in Sarasota, Fla., is searching for a man who spray-painted swastikas and other graffiti onto two local synagogues, causing “thousands of dollars” in damages.
In a surveillance video released by the police, the suspect can be seen walking up to and spray-painting Temple Emanu-El at 2:15 a.m. on July 15. He then went to Temple Sinai, about five miles away, where he vandalized that building as well.
According to the police, “a similar incident occurred on April 2 at Temple Emanu-El.”
The suspect is described by law enforcement as being a white male in his late 20s or early 30s, between 5’10” and 6’2”, with dark hair and a thin build. He was wearing a blue baseball cap and a red bandana covering his face.
In a joint statement to their congregations, the leadership from the synagogues wrote: “With heavy hearts, we share that a vandal desecrated our campus buildings last night with spray-painted messages of hate. At Emanu-El, the markings cover much of the southern side of buildings where employees enter. At Sinai, the messages covered all our exterior walls and were visible to our Gan children and their families who arrived for camp this morning.
“We are angered and saddened,” the letter continued. “We will be ever vigilant in looking after the safety and security of our members and our children. But we will not allow hate to distract us from the holy work that defines our temple missions. Our temples remain sacred places of worship, learning and fellowship … .”
In a letter to the community, officials from the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee said they are working with the authorities, including investigators from the local FBI office, and representatives from SCN, the Secure Community Network, a security arm of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization.
“Every effort is being made to identify this person and take active steps to ensure our community remains the safe, secure and inclusive home to the Jewish families that live and work in the Sarasota-Manatee area,” they wrote. “Federation leadership has been in touch with every brick-and-mortar Jewish institution in our community today to review security needs and determine where best to focus our resources.”
In a video message with the synagogue’s rabbi, Samantha Kahn, Temple Sinai President Ellyn Bender said, “It’s been a very sad day, but a very supportive day at the same time. It’s an opportunity for us to come together and be strong together.”
Temple Sinai will be hosting an online “Special Service for Healing and Solidarity” pre-Shabbat service on Friday night.
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