An anti-Semitic message that the “holocaust is fake history” spray-painted on the Temple de Hirsch Sinai in Capitol Hill early Friday morning led to an abundance of caution when a temple employee reported finding a suspicious package outside several hours later.
“As it turned out, someone made a donation of old history books to one of the rabbis here,” said Seattle Assistant Police Chief Robert Merner around 2:15 p.m. Friday.
Seattle Police reported early in the day that an off-duty officer spotted “anti-Semitic, holocaust-denying” graffiti on the wall of the synagogue around 5 a.m. Friday morning. SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb confirmed the temple does hire off-duty officers to provide security.
“It’s a service we provide,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s more or less than it’s been previously.”
There have been several bomb threats reported at Jewish community centers across the country — including one on Mercer Island — as well as increased instances of vandalism and hate speech in the past several weeks.
Coupling that with the hate speech spray-painted on the Temple de Hirsch Sinai exterior led Seattle Police to exercise “an abundance of caution” when the suspicious package was reported, said Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who had been with Mayor Ed Murray for an Irish Week proclamation when she was notified. A bomb unit was able to photograph the package and clear it as safe.
O’Toole and other senior police officials had just met with temple leadership on Wednesday, Merner said.
“Most Jewish organizations throughout the country are in pretty close contact with law enforcement, to make as many connections and glean as many resources as possible,” Rabbi Daniel Weiner told the Capitol Hill Times during a phone interview Friday. “It just so happened that we were talking about that in the abstract and it just became a more concrete issue.”
The graffiti left on the side of Temple de Hirsch Sinai was the first major instance of discriminatory aggression Weiner could remember during his tenure.
“We have not had anything like this that severe, and I’ve been here for about 16 years,” he said.
The rabbi said there is a “long pedigree of this holocaust denial,” which is used as an excuse for anti-Semitic attitudes or to minimize that time in history.
“That’s been going on probably since the end of World War II,” Weiner said.
O’Toole said the department takes hateful graffiti like this very seriously. Police documented the graffiti, and the Bias Crimes Unit is handling the case.
A neighbor had covered the graffiti Friday morning with a bed sheet that said, “Love Wins,” but Weiner took it down later in the day. He said he wanted people to see the graffiti, before it’s painted over.
“I so appreciated the gesture,” Weiner said. “I just felt it very important that the community see this and we document it before it’s covered up or erased.”
Ironically, Weiner had been invited to a 2 p.m. meeting between U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and Seattle faith leaders, to discuss the rise in hate crimes across the country.
“I was actually almost there when I got the call about the suspicious package,” he said, “and I turned around and headed back to the temple.”
Weiner said the message to temple members has been that continued and enhanced safety measures will be taken, so they can continue to enjoy their right to practice their faith.
“We’re not going to let a few sick individuals deter us from who we are as Jews and who we are as Americans,” he said.
Merner said the message from the suspicious package incident is to call ahead before leaving donations.