Vandalism cutout

On a Wednesday morning last month, residents of a Jewish community on the north side of San Antonio awoke to swastikas and racial slurs spray painted across their cars, homes, fences and street signs.

Anti-Semitic vandalism was also found desecrating memorials surrounding Rodfei Sholom, an Orthodox synagogue located near Northwest Military Drive and Huebner Road.

Later that week, Congregation Agudas Achim was targeted with similar graffiti.

“Hate speech snowballing is what led to the Holocaust; it didn’t start with violence. It started with speech,” said City Councilman for District 8 Ron Nirenberg.

According to the San Antonio Police Department, over thirty homes and cars were tagged with hateful graffiti.

“My first reaction was shock,” said Nirenberg. “Whenever you see a neighbor attacked in a way this open it’s hard to take.”

In response to these incidents, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SAHCC) hosted an interfaith luncheon titled “A Community Conversation: Preventing Hate Crimes,” where leaders from law enforcement, the business community, several religious communities and Councilman Nirenberg discussed ways to combat ignorance and intolerance.

According to Nico Lahood, the Criminal District Attorney of Bexar County, hate crime prevention begins in the home.

“Children will follow your example before they follow your advice,” Lahood stated. He went on to explain that the issue of hate is a matter of the heart, and to not address that would be ”dealing with the symptoms instead of dealing with the cause.”

A motif of SAHCC’s event was articulated with the leader of Congregation Rodefei Sholom, Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg’s comment, “The only way to combat hate is with love.” While the majority of the panel members echoed Rabbi Scheinberg’s sentiment, CEO of the Jewish Federation of SA, Ronit Sherwin, offered up a different solution.

“The opposite of hate is education and education is a core Jewish value,” Sherwin stated.

Steven Colodny, UTSA senior psychology major and active member of the Jewish groups on campus (Hillel and Chabad on Campus) agrees that education is key to preventing hate crimes and hopes for a more open dialogue where students are more politically and socially aware than in other parts of the city.

“The Israel-Palestine issue can be hotly contested, and naturally, there is a lot of emotion on each side,” he said. “What’s important to remember is that we are all in this together and have a shared goal, which is peace and stability.” Colodny hopes that in the future, UTSA will host dual-panel events that feature both a pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian stance “so that those on each side can be exposed to new perspectives, but also show that they are not mutually exclusive stances.”

San Antonio Crime Stoppers, State Senator Jose Menendez, Congregation Rodfei Sholom and District 8 businesses have brought together a reward of $11,500 for information leading to the arrests of the individuals responsible for the vandalism.

Michael Hoyle, the Chief of the Criminal Trial Division of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, emphasized the need for, “respect for others and then consequences if you can not respect the other.”

Police are still searching for the two male persons of interest, identified from surveillance photos. They are believed to be living in the area of the crime.

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