When vandals spray-painted swastikas, hate slogans and an eight-foot Nazi eagle on the walls of the Shaare Tefila Synagogue in Silver Spring two years ago, temple officials decided to leave the markings in place for a week so the world could see them.
Refusing to sweep the incident under the rug, the congregation commissioned a video-taped documentary that chronicles the events surrounding what several Jewish leaders called the worse case of anti-Semitic vandalism ever committed in Montgomery County.
The 18-minute film, "Desecration in Darkness: A Community Fights Back," premiered last week before several hundred congregants, community leaders and county officials who gathered at Shaare Tefila to remember a crime that outraged them and united them.
"We took a negative incident and transformed it into a positive event, not only for our congregation, but for the entire community," said Marshall S. Levin, executive director of the congregation.
The story of Shaare Tefila's response to the defacement is told by using television news footage of the incident; taped interviews with county officials, congregants, national and local Jewish leaders, and photographs and newspaper clippings.
Although just completed, the tape already is in demand. More than 30 synagogues have requested copies, Levin said, and more are expected to go to schools, churches, and youth and civic groups. Congregation officials said they hope the film will serve as an educational tool in fighting anti-Semitic acts.
Among those interviewed for the film are Rabbi Martin S. Halpern, Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md), County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, Police Chief Bernard D. Crooke, and County Council President Michael L. Gudis.
The film, begun shortly after the vandalism occurred, was produced and directed by George Rosenberg and Micha Lev of the Rosenberg-Issembert Production Co. It dramatically recreates the night the synagogue was defaced, and features interviews with congregants who had lived through the Holocaust and suffered traumatic flashbacks upon viewing the markings.
One such survivor, Harriet Steinhorn, who spent six years in five concentration camps under the Nazis, said the chain of events that followed the vandalism reinforced her "faith in humanity."
"In spite of this terrible desecration that I saw, and the terrible pain that was inflicted upon me all over again, I saw people coming from all over the Washington area just to come and to say, 'We do care,' " Steinhorn told the audience the night of the screening.
Gudis, who sponsored legislation shortly after the vandalism for an ordinance that now makes vandals and others liable to civil action in anti-Semitism cases, said of the film: "Sometimes a lot of good and real great things come out of terrible things. And I think that's exactly what happened here."
The vandalism received wide publicity after members of the congregation decided to leave the anti-Semitic graffiti on display. The slogans were removed later that week.
Several weeks after the desecration occurred, county police arrested eight men and charged them with malicious destruction of property. One of them was given a maximum sentence of three years in prison for his part in the incident.
Alan Paul Dean, executive director of the human relations commission, said that incidents of hate-related violence and vandalism reported in the county rose from 145 in 1983 to 151 in 1984. However, he described the increase as a "leveling off" from the unprecedented number of incidents in 1982, when 185 were reported.
Dean attributed the decline since 1982 to efforts by Jewish organizations, the media and public officials to increase public awareness of the problem, plus stepped-up efforts by county police. Seventeen percent of Montgomery's population is Jewish, human relations officials said.