After synagogues are targeted with swastikas and smashed windows, rabbi urges community to respond with ‘goodness and positivity’
“The way we deal with evil is good,” said Rabbi Levi Notik after the graffiti was sprayed on the F.R.E.E. Synagogue.
Rabbi Levi Notik had just finished preparing meals at the F.R.E.E. Synagogue food bank on Devon Avenue Sunday when he stepped outside and saw a yellow swastika spray-painted on the side of the building.
Across the street, he saw someone yell racial slurs at a young Jewish man and then tackle him.
Notik said he thanked God no one was seriously hurt, and he urged the community to respond with “goodness and positivity” to a rash of vandalism that targeted two other synagogues and several Jewish businesses in West Rogers Park over the weekend, days after Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“I think the message to the community is we need to add goodness and positivity,” Notik said Monday. “The way we deal with evil is good. We’re going to do more food packing and we’re not going to be deterred.”
Chicago police said they were questioning a suspect arrested after the incident at Notik’s synagogue. They have not said whether all the acts of vandalism are related, though they occurred within blocks of each other.
Two businesses in the 2900 block of West Devon Avenue reported their front windows broken on Saturday, according to police. In both instances, police said no entry had been made and nothing taken.
On the same day, someone shattered a glass door and cracked another at a synagogue several blocks away, in the 2800 block of West North Shore, police said.
At a synagogue in the 3600 block of West Devon Avenue, a witness reported someone had kicked out a side window Saturday morning, police said.
The swastika was found on the F.R.E.E. Synagogue in the 2900 block of West Devon on Sunday morning. Another swastika was found on a cargo container in the 3000 block of West Devon, near Hanna Sacks High School.
Police said a person of interest has been taken into custody in connection with the graffiti and for “verbally assaulting” someone nearby.
Ald. Debra L. Silverstein, whose 50th Ward covers the area where the acts occurred, said police were still investigating “if they were carried out by the same person or group of people. No official pronouncement has been made on a possible motive, but these have all the hallmarks of hate-based crimes.
“These incidents are particularly upsetting as they come mere days after Holocaust Remembrance Day and in light of a worrying increase in antisemitism across the nation,” she said in a statement.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot condemned the incidents as “undoubtedly a part of the troubling rise in antisemitism that we’ve seen both in our city and across the country.”
Lightfoot said there were “a lot of poignant statements” made at last week’s City Council meeting during a resolution commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, but the “unfortunate reality is that hate still lives in Chicago, as it does in the state of Illinois, as it does in the United States, as it does in the world.”
The antisemitic incidents on the Far North Side are only the latest evidence of that cold reality, the mayor said. “What we need to learn from this experience is, we need to stamp out hate wherever it rears its ugly head,” she said.
The mayor then repeated what she said from the rostrum at last week’s City Council meeting.
“I’m a Black, female lesbian. And I know that, when they are coming after my brothers and sisters in the Jewish community, they’ve got a list and I’m also on it,” she told reporters at an unrelated news conference.
“So we have to stand united wherever we see hate. Wherever we see antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, sexism. Wherever it is, people of good will cannot turn a blind eye and just think, ‘Well, it’s not me.’ It is you. It is me. It is all of us when there is hatred manifest in our community.”
Lightfoot noted “detectives and officers are working diligently to put together a case” to support bringing charges against the suspect.
But even before that happens, the mayor said city leaders have “rallied, as we always do, to support our Jewish and Orthodox communities.” She said Ald. Silverstein has been “terrific in advocating” for her community.
“I’m looking out at a mostly Black crowd,” Lightfoot said at Monday’s news conference on the West Side.
“And I want to say to you, if it’s happening on the North Side to a Jewish community, it will happen to us as well. And we must stand united and say, ‘Not in our city. Not in this time will we tolerate that kind of hatred,’” Lightfoot said to applause.
Ald. Silverstein and the Chicago Police Department have organized a virtual community meeting at 6 p.m. Monday to discuss the antisemitic incidents.