Congregation Emanu-El calm despite vandalism

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A little bit of paint barely fazed members of the oldest Jewish temple west of the Mississippi River — and an outpouring of support after an ugly incident has buoyed their spirits.

Temple Emanu-El Senior Rabbi Stephen Pearce said people outside the congregation made a bigger deal out of the 10-inch swastika painted on the side of the Presidio Heights building than people inside.

“We didn’t want to blow it out of proportion. We didn’t want to overreact to some foolish act by a teenager or kid or an angry person,” he said.

Most of the 8,000-member congregation — founded during the California Gold Rush by a group that included Levi’s jeans founder Levi Strauss — was busy preparing for the first night of Passover on Monday when the graffiti was found.

Pearce said he wasn’t concerned that it was a harbinger of any violence to come.

“We’re always on a very heightened state of alert around the congregation. We’re not frightened but we do want people who come here to feel comfortable,” he said.

In the last three years, the temple’s leaders have installed metal detectors, 24-hour cameras and other security measures in response to anti-Semitic acts around the world.

San Francisco police Sgt. Neville Gittens said the case is being investigated as a hate crime, but there have been no changes or updates in the investigation.

Regardless of the catalyst, Pearce said the support that poured in from Bay Area residents helped ease any remaining tension or concern.

“We really felt the support of the community, in particular the interfaith community, and we’re grateful for their willingness to stand by us,” Pearce said.

The graffiti highlighted the need for continued outreach and education regarding tolerance, even in a city like San Francisco, said Paul Chaffee, executive director of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio.

“Whenever things like this happen, the interfaith community comes together,” Chaffee said. “I think the interfaith community in the Bay Area is fairly clear that when it happens to one group, it happens to everyone.”

jgoldman@examiner.com

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