Hate Hits Nelsonville

Swastika, anti-Semitic slur painted on home

By Michael Turton

A home under construction in Nelsonville and owned by a Jewish resident was vandalized overnight on Oct. 30 with graffiti that included a swastika and an anti-Semitic slur.

A swastika was painted on the inside of a window in the home. (Photo by M. Turton)

The contractor, who is also of Jewish heritage, alerted The Current on Wednesday morning after discovering the damage. The property owner asked that his name and the address of the property be withheld because of concerns for the safety of his family. But he said the incident “gives members of the community an opportunity to stand on the right side of history.”

The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating the vandalism, which was made with black spray paint and also included obscenities and the word “Prowler.” A representative for the sheriff’s office said that if it’s deemed a hate crime, criminal mischief charges could be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony or from a lower to a higher-level felony, depending on the extent of damages.

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and Sheriff Robert Langley Jr. released a joint statement, saying: “We have met regarding the hateful incident in Nelsonville. We are working together to make sure all resources are being deployed to apprehend those responsible for this heinous and shameful act. We stand with the good people of this great county who believe hatred and violence against neighbors will not be tolerated in Putnam County.”

On Thursday (Nov. 1), Supervisor Richard Shea halted the Philipstown Town Board’s monthly meeting in mid-session for a moment of silence to recognize the 11 people killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27 and protest other recent acts of violence.

“Last week was a horrible week in this country,” he said. “There’s no explaining it. The rhetoric really does have to be toned down,” noting that “the hate that is out there” hit close to home, “visiting this town” in the defacing of the Nelsonville property. “My wife is Jewish; my son is Jewish. It’s a topic of conversation at our house.”

The vandalism came about a month after an anti-Semitic flier was hung at two Beacon churches. In response, the Beacon Hebrew Alliance and the First Presbyterian Church of Beacon organized a gathering on Thursday (Nov. 1) at Salem Tabernacle, a non-denominational Christian church, of “all people of faith and good conscience … for an evening of breaking bread and singing together.”

The same flier was posted in Poughkeepsie at Marist College, Vassar College and Dutchess Community College. A man caught hanging fliers on Oct. 8 at Marist was barred from all three campuses. Poughkeepsie police handled the incident but did not release the man’s name or charge him with a crime, saying the fliers did not appear to violate state hate-crime laws. Beacon police reached the same conclusion.

There have been increasing reports of anti-Semitic incidents around the country, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL said it recorded nearly 2,000 incidents in 2017, ranging from assaults and distribution of hate literature to vandalism and bomb threats, including 380 incidents in New York. The largest increase nationally was in vandalism.

An anti-Semitic slur was painted on a window inside the home. (Photo by M. Turton)

More recently, a study of 7.5 million recent Twitter posts and 8.2 million hashtags by the ADL found a “marked rise in the number of online attacks” against Jews ahead of Election Day.

Rabbi Brent Spodek of the Beacon Hebrew Alliance said he felt it was important for the media to cover anti-Semitic acts but that the focus should not be on whether the suspects are caught. The more important question, he said, is: “Where do average people in Nelsonville, Beacon and America stand in these moments of fear?” When hate crimes occur, he said, “there is no neutral.”

In an email, Nelsonville Mayor Bill O’Neill wrote: “This hateful vandalism is outrageous and heartbreaking.” He noted that village residents have expressed revulsion over the incident as well as “support for our neighbors who have been subjected to this mindless act.” In a statement, Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown, called the vandalism “a cowardly act” that “is not part of the fabric of the people we call neighbors, friends and family.”

U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, whose district includes Nelsonville and who lives in Philipstown, said in a statement: “This took place within eyesight of my kids’ school, where good people from all walks of life bring our kids to learn tolerance and respect.” He said “hate has no home” in Philipstown, “and the light of good people coming together will expose it.”

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19 Responses to "Hate Hits Nelsonville"

  1. Eileen Denehy   November 1, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    This is terrible. Please join the Philipstown Reform Synagogue on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 7:45 p.m. for a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the shooting in Pittsburgh and to stand up against anti-Semitism and hatred in all its forms. Hate has no home here.

    Reply
  2. Russell Macrini   November 1, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    A coward with a can of spray paint.

    Reply
  3. Melissa Beck   November 1, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    I would suggest the Putnam County History Museum consider an exhibit about the county’s response to slavery, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, etc. and then host a series of Teaching Tolerance workshops open and free for all to attend (tolerance.org) this will help us move forward as a community.

    Reply
  4. Dan Bollinger   November 2, 2018 at 9:06 am

    Uh, what state did this happen in!? The editor must be more parochial than most.

    Reply
    • Leslie Miller   November 2, 2018 at 12:50 pm

      “Highlands Current Inc. is a New York State not-for-profit corporation begun in 2010 as Philipstown.Info, Inc., to provide balanced reporting of the news and events of the Hudson Valley communities of Cold Spring, Garrison, Nelsonville and North Highlands.”

      Reply
  5. Andrew Dade   November 2, 2018 at 10:47 pm

    Has the Putnam County Sheriff posted a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the miscreants who did this?

    Reply
  6. Astrid Lindgren   November 4, 2018 at 8:30 am

    I find it surprising that a representative from the Sheriff’s office said “if it’s deemed a hate crime, criminal mischief charges could be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony.” Why “if”? Let’s call this out for what it is. If someone draws swastikas on a Jewish house, that is a hate crime, plain and simple. The state of hate in this country is beyond comprehension and it is deeply saddening to find it in our community. We must confront this head on, not with if’s and but’s.

    Reply
    • mm
      Chip Rowe   November 6, 2018 at 10:57 am

      The qualified language is because the Putnam County prosecutor, Robert Tendy, rather than the Sheriff’s Office, determines if a crime is elevated. When we asked Tendy about it, he replied: “This was clearly a hate crime, and I know without a doubt that the sheriff believes it is, too, because we have discussed it. My office and the Sheriff’s Office are proceeding accordingly.”

      Reply
  7. Tim Greco   November 5, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    I find it highly hypocritical of the editor of The Highlands Current who, in my opinion, rightfully labeled this incident as a hate crime but not only a few months ago when our church sign was vandalized by the same type of hate crime, titled the photo “Shuffle Board” and questioned if it was “a prankster or vandal, depending on your view.”

    What difference does it make if it happens to our Christian church or the property of a Jewish home owner? Imagine the shock and horror of our congregation finding our signboard vandalized to read “Remember God is Dead.”

    Is not hate still hate and religious intolerance just that, intolerance? It should never be tolerated or welcomed in our community and absolutely never held up to ridicule. I believe your publication absolutely owes the good people of our congregation an apology for making light of such a horrible, hurtful moment that our church had to endure.

    The Church on the Hill stands with our Jewish friends of the community against this type of hate. Our prayers are with you all.

    Greco is the lead pastor of the Church on the Hill.

    Reply
  8. Aaron Freimark   November 6, 2018 at 6:00 am

    These two acts of vandalism were both disrespectful to a religious group. But that is where the similarity ends.

    The spray painting was aimed specifically at a single family, on the inside of their new house. It was an act of violation and violence. It implemented powerful and unmistakable symbols of anti-Semitism. Most important, the spray painting occurred days after a man brought an assault rifle into a Pittsburgh congregation on the Sabbath and massacred Jews inside.

    This is not the same as rearranging letters on a signboard. Your inability to see the difference shocked me. Your willingness to choose this time to call attention to your own grievances offended me. And your choice of how you express your priorities — when Philipstown Jews like me are feeling vulnerable, and knowing you have the support of your congregation — makes me feel a little less safe in my own community.

    Reply
  9. Tim Greco   November 6, 2018 at 11:20 am

    There is nothing shocking when a church is constantly under attack for its belief in God. And it’s not just our sign being rearranged. This is not the first time it’s happened to us, even during our Holy Days.

    Both cases involve hate and intolerance. It is not mutually exclusive here. We share your pain.

    Reply
    • Greg Miller   November 7, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      Both cases do indeed involve hate and intolerance. But one is a flickering candle and the other a global inferno.

      There is zero equivalence between the vandalism of the church signboard and the implied threat of the swastika. In the wake of Pittsburgh, you dare to hijack the pain imposed on this family and the fear unleashed on the local Jewish community to redress a grievance with a newspaper?

      A sign on the edge of your church property was tinkered with. The comfort and safety of your home was not tainted. Your church was not invaded. You were not threatened with bodily harm, nor were your family or your brethren.

      Vandalism is pathetic and I hope your vandal is caught and punished, but even if the sign were rearranged every week, that crime would be dwarfed by the crime carried out against this family.

      The swastika has a specific intention, a specific target, and carries a darker historical gravity than any other symbol on earth. It is the icon not just of white supremacy but of achieving that goal through genocide, through the extermination of other races, and that list began with Jews.

      To the new homeowners: I am so sorry this happened. This is not who we are.

      Reply
    • Maria Szulc   November 10, 2018 at 11:49 pm

      You are mistaken. Nobody’s life was threatened. An atheist is guilty of a mischievous act and the church didn’t even have to scrape the paint off. But to paint a swastika on any home means I want to violate your right to exist. To paint a swastika on a Jewish home means I want to kill you because you are Jewish.

      Reply
  10. Joshua Kaye   November 7, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    The concerns you raise are not mutually exclusive but you seem to be saying these situations are comparable, and that the editor ought to have treated them so.

    The invasion of someone’s home and the use of racial epithets and especially the swastika, isn’t disrespect, but rather a threat. A majority of the Jews in our community will have had family members murdered by others who wielded that symbol. It’s a deliberate attempt to inspire terror. All the more so as the culprit presumably took inspiration from the events in Pittsburgh.

    Observant Jews are well-accustomed to having their religious beliefs attacked, and so as far as that goes, maybe we do share some of your pain. Of course one needn’t be a victim oneself in order to deplore disrespect or vicious behavior. If we ever have an opportunity to chat in person, maybe over coffee, maybe we could come to a better appreciation of each other’s experiences and perspective.

    Reply
  11. Cathy Duke   November 9, 2018 at 1:31 pm

    They say to understand a person you must walk in his or her shoes. So walk in mine.

    Imagine for a moment that you are at prayer on a nice morning in your church, which you have attended for 20 or 30 years or more, sitting next to a young family with their baby, waiting for a christening. A gunman breaks in and begins shooting at you and your friends. His motive is hatred — hatred of you, your faith, your entire community, your values and all that you stand for. That’s what happened to the Jews of Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. They were about to celebrate a baby-naming ceremony. Eleven congregants died and two were wounded. Six police officers also were wounded.

    We could try to dismiss this violent criminal as a madman. But he is an American, and his hatred of Jews is homegrown. He read and believed hateful lies about Jews circulated online by Nazi sympathizers and others who may not even have been fully aware that their language was anti-Semitic.

    Anti-Semitism comes in many forms. We had our own close look at it when the home of a Jewish family was defaced with a swastika and a slur. We are talking about a young man’s home, his place of refuge from the world which he is building with his wife and two small children. What is it we all look for in a home? Peace. In Hebrew it is called shalom — a word that means not just peace, but wholeness and completeness.

    This family’s sense of peace was shattered, and their idea about this community was challenged. Of course, they know that this was the act of one person, or perhaps a small group. But the person or persons are from our town, our community. And if it turns out that this was an act of teenagers, we ask: “Where did they learn these words? Why did they behave this way?” It’s a question we all want answered. It demands a response.

    That is what we will do. Philipstown Reform Synagogue invites you to join us at a vigil on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 7:45 p.m. at the Parish Hall of St. Mary’s Church in Cold Spring, our spiritual home, to say no to anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred. And to say yes to American values of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom from fear, to our collective spirit of love, and the power of our right of assembly, and to reassert what this community and our America stand for.

    Thank you for joining with Philipstown Reform Synagogue so that we truly know that good people will not be passive nor silent in the face of hatred.

    Duke is the president of Philipstown Reform Synagogue.

    Reply
  12. Kyle Good   November 9, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    The story about the anti-Semitic vandalism at a Nelsonville home reminded me of something done in June to a sign we placed near our home to redirect people who come into our yard looking for the nearby Garrison Institute. Someone defaced it with a swastika and “SS” [a reference to Schutzstaffel, the black-uniformed Nazi police]. Of course, after seeing that we removed the sign immediately. What is happening around here?

    Good is a board member of Highlands Current Inc.

    Reply
  13. Wade Hathaway   November 9, 2018 at 9:19 pm

    Respectfully, Pastor Greco, comparing the disrespectful vandalism of your message board (which appears to be an immature expression of one’s opinion of religion in general) to the invasion of a Jewish family’s uncompleted home and the leaving of symbols and slogans of violence comes off as a bit tone deaf, at best.

    When your congregation has held public functions in support of members needing help (a summer or two ago was it to help a family recover from a fire?), we, as your neighbors, felt strongly about showing support and offering what we could to help. And we are not a religious family.

    Maybe some deeper reflection on what has happened to this Nelsonville family, especially in light of what happened in Pittsburgh and the increase in anti-Semitism in general in our nation, might lead to a comment more worthy of you as a pastor and a neighbor.

    Reply
  14. Amy Werner   November 10, 2018 at 9:21 am

    For the Jewish people the swastika is a symbol of fear, of intimidation, and of extermination, it is the most hated symbol of the 20th Century, inextricably linked to the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. The word “kike is an ethnic slur for a Jewish person that has been used for a century to intimidate and offend.

    “God is Dead” is a widely quoted statement by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche used the phrase in a figurative sense, to express the idea that the Enlightenment had “killed” the possibility of belief in God or any gods having ever existed.

    I am saddened that anyone would find the two comparable.

    Reply
    • Alex Bronson   November 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

      “NIETZSCHE IS DEAD.” – GOD.

      One can be answered with humor. The other cannot.

      Reply

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