Nazi symbols were discovered on a structure behind a synagogue in Indiana, igniting public outcry and prompting support from the surrounding community.
Two massive Nazi flags and two Iron Crosses were spray-painted late Friday night on a brick structure that conceals garbage behind Congregation Shaarey Tefilla in Carmel, not far from Indianapolis, according to a spokeswoman for the synagogue. Local authorities are investigating the incident, and the Indiana State Police and the FBI have offered their assistance.
The Carmel Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the investigation.
The synagogue’s Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow said Sunday in a statement, “We are deeply disappointed in the horrific vandalism that occurred at our Congregation.”
“Intolerance, hatred, and violent acts against Jews are significant realities today,” he said. “The response to this heinous act affirms that America is collectively outraged at these hateful acts in our neighborhoods.”
Religious leaders planned to hold a service Monday evening at Congregation Shaarey Tefilla to support the Jewish community “in the aftermath of antisemitic vandalism,” according to a statement.
Lindsay Shipps, a spokeswoman for the synagogue, said the two Nazi flags emblazoned with swastikas were painted on two separate sides of the structure and that one side included Iron Crosses.
Shipps said surveillance video showed two people with an incendiary device, noting that they also left burn marks on a wall, but she said it is not yet clear what the device was or what they intended to do with it. In any case, Shipps said it was not a “fly-by-night graffiti operation” but took “considerable time,” noting that video showed them painting from about 11 p.m. Friday to nearly 2:30 a.m. Saturday. She said no one seemed to notice the anti-Semitic graffiti during the Saturday-morning service but that it was reported later in the afternoon.
Eli Keren, a member of the congregation, told the Indianapolis Star that, for him, it hits too close to home.
“I’m first generation after the Holocaust. My father’s family is from Poland. My mother’s family is from Hungary. And 90 percent of our family went up in smoke just under this particular flag in [concentration camps] and this kind of hate and bigotry,” Keren told the newspaper. “The people who did this probably don’t even know what this represents. I would welcome them and their families and the people who fed them this hate to come here and speak with us. Understand who we are and what we are, and maybe they’ll stop hating us so much.”
Keren’s wife, Tamar, told the Indianapolis Star it was the first time the couple have directly encountered anti-Semitism since they moved to the United States from Israel.
“Seeing that is very disturbing,” Tamar Keren, who moved with her family from Israel to Carmel a couple of years ago, told the newspaper. “It makes me feel like there is no safe place for Jewish people except Israel. I’m not happy to see that. I’m happy that I went through my life without seeing those [Nazi symbols], and I’m very sorry I had to face it here.”
Following the incident in Carmel, Vice President Pence, a former Indiana governor, wrote Sunday on Twitter that he was “sickened and appalled by the cowardly act of vandalism at Congregation Shaarey Tefilla; a beautiful synagogue in Carmel, Indiana where I have many good friends. Those responsible must be held accountable. These vile acts of anti-Semitism must end.”
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) called the suspects “cowards” and said that they would be held accountable.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard (R) said he “strongly condemns the actions.”
“There is no place for this kind of hatred in Carmel and it does not reflect the respectful and welcoming nature of the vast majority of our residents who come from many different cultural and faith backgrounds,” he said in a statement. “As we are reminded each year during our city’s Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony, we must never forget and never stop fighting against the hatred that led to the murder of 6 million Jews. These images that represent the ideas that led to those crimes are not reflective of what our City stands for.”
Congressional members who represent Carmel also showed their support.
No suspects have been publicly identified, and it is unclear what charges they would face.
Andre Miksha, chief deputy prosecuting attorney at the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office, said he could not comment on the case because it is still under investigation, but he said that such a case could potentially fall under Indiana’s criminal mischief laws. He said the state does not have a hate crime statute, per se, but that in some cases, such motivation could be considered at sentencing.