A 23-year-old man was convicted yesterday of destruction of property for drawing anti-Semitic symbols and slogans on the Shaare Tefila Synagogue in Silver Spring last November.
The conviction of Michael David Remer in Montgomery County Circuit Court came in one of the few successful prosecutions in the nation for acts of anti-Semitic vandalism, according to Irvin N. Shapell, president of the Jewish Advocacy Center in Washington. Shapell said it would serve notice that the community will "fight back" in such cases. State's Attorney Andrew Sonner also said it was the first prosecution and conviction in memory for such a crime in the county's Circuit Court system.
Shaare Tefila Rabbi Martin S. Halpern said the incident itself and yesterday's conviction had heightened the awareness of everyone in the community, not only those of the Jewish faith, that "if desecration happens in a synagogue today, it could happen to a church tomorrow and to a mosque the next day."
A jury deliberated less than two hours yesterday before returning the guilty verdict against Remer, who grew up in the Wheaton-Silver Spring area and now lives in Ellicott City, Md. One of his companions on the night of the incident testified that he watched Remer spray-paint "a big Nazi swastika," a cross, a skull and crossbones and the words Ku Klux Klan on the back of the synagogue.
Remer took the stand in his own defense yesterday and denied painting anything on the synagogue walls, although he asserted that he watched several of his companions paint the symbols and slogans there last Nov. 1.
"I was drunk," Remer testified under questioning by his attorney, Robert A. Jacques. "I was laughing at them," Remer added, explaining that his companions, who have also been charged and whose cases are pending, were "falling down all the time" as they spray-painted the walls.
Remer denied that he was connected with any Nazi group and when Jacques asked if he was anti-Semitic, the prosecution objected before Remer could answer.
Outside the courtroom, Remer told reporters that he was not anti-Semitic and that, although he was not Jewish himself, he had grown up in a home where his stepfather and stepbrothers were Jewish. He said he did not practice any religion, but had attended some religious ceremonies at synagogues with his family.
Remer could be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison and fined up to $2,500 on the destruction of property conviction, according to prosecutor Rick Jordan. Remer was also convicted of six other criminal charges stemming from incidents the same night. Those included spray-painting the wall of a Drug Fair store at the White Oak Shopping Center, joining the group in breaking into a lumber yard behind a hardware store and watching as two of his companions stole a van from the premises.
Both defense attorney Jacques and prosecutor Jordan, however, agreed that the desecration at the temple was at the heart of the case. Jacques told jurors that the pictures were "so offensive and so heinous that you don't have to be Jewish" to be outraged by them. But he asserted that his client had not drawn them.
The incident was highly publicized because the Shaare Tefila Congregation decided to leave the symbols and slogans on the walls for several days to give the community "a chance to express community outrage," according to Marshall Levin, the synagogue's executive director. Scores of residents helped with the cleanup a few days later, and tips from residents who learned about the incident helped lead to the arrests of Remer and five others, Levin said.
Judge Rosalyn B. Bell, who presided at the trial, set Remer's bond at $50,000 and scheduled sentencing for Aug. 11.