Anti-Semitic incidents probed in Ventura County
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department (VCSD) is investigating two separate anti-Semitic incidents, including one in which the Chabad of Oak Park received a note Feb. 11 with a swastika drawn on it and the words “Hail Hitler.”
The incident occurred a week after three swastikas were discovered spray painted at Dos Vientos Community Park in the Conejo Valley.
VCSD is investigating the Oak Park situation — in which two suspects were captured on surveillance video by the synagogue — as a “hate incident,” according to VCSD Detective Marta Bugarin. She said the suspects, in the event they are identified, would not be arrested, as there was no defacement done to the building, which is a house on a residential block.
“They [the suspects] didn’t deface anything, they didn’t vandalize anything, they taped it on the front door,” Bugarin said. The police report describes the suspects as “dark figures,” she said.
In a phone interview, Chabad of Oak Park Rabbi Yisroel Levine said he received word from two neighboring families — non-Jewish families — who told him they received similar notes on the same night. That, coupled with the fact that there is no outward indication that the Chabad building is a Jewish center, has led him to believe his synagogue was not specifically targeted.
“When I first heard of our temple [being left with the note], I thought we were targeted. Now I’m not so sure,” Levine said.
This occurred as VCSD authorities continue to investigate the incident at Dos Vientos Community Park in which two swastikas were painted on the wooden boards on the perimeter of a baseball field, and another one defacing the concrete next to it.
Residents of the area discovered the graffiti at the park and notified authorities on Feb. 4, according to Steve Gold, a congregant of Congregation Am Hayam in Ventura County. It has since been removed.
“We called it into the police department to have them investigate it, which they did, and it wasn’t registered as a hate crime because it was not addressed to anyone in particular,” Gold told the Journal.
Gold said he was surprised to find the swastikas in his neighborhood in the first place.
“I really think this is just an independent person who probably has anger issues. I don’t feel in my neighborhood polarizations occurring,” he said.
Bugarin said the department has not identified any suspects in connection with the incident and that an investigation is ongoing.
“Right now, we don’t have any suspects,” Bugarin, who works in the VCSD Thousand Oaks division, told the Journal in a phone interview last week.
“It looks like it was a juvenile who may have done this,” VCSD media relations officer Capt. Garo Kuredjian told the Journal of the park incident.
According to Bugarin, VCSD is investigating the swastika painted onto the concrete but not the two that had been painted onto the baseball field’s wooden boards. She speculated this is because the two on the wooden boards had already been painted over by the time police officials arrived on the scene, on Feb. 6.
Cyndi Silverman, regional director of the Santa Barbara/Tri-Counties Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said the three swastikas discovered at the park were only the latest incidents she has seen in the area. She declined to draw a correlation between the uptick and the election of President Donald Trump.
It’s “definitely a concern, seeing an uptick in hate symbols, especially in public parks,” she said.
Bugarin, however, denied there has been an increase in anti-Semitic activity in her area, Thousand Oaks.
It’s “definitely not something we see or hear about very often,” she said.
Ed Jones, a member of the Conejo Recreation and Park District board of directors, wrote on his Facebook page after the swastikas were discovered, “Such a shame that this symbol of hate would appear in one of our parks.”
The Ventura County incidents followed a mid-December instance of an anti-Semitic scrawl discovered in West Los Angeles, near Temple Isaiah. The phrase, “Why is Jackie O being played by an Israeli Jew?” — a reference to Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in the recent film, “Jackie” — was discovered at a bus stop on a poster of the film “Assassin’s Creed.” A slashed-through Jewish star appears next to the scrawl.
ADL Pacific Southwest Associate Regional Director Ariella Schusterman said the West L.A. incident was “taken care of pretty quickly.”
Both the Dos Vientos and West L.A. incidents were documented via the neighborhood-centric social network app Nextdoor, which provides a platform for residents to describe positive and negative activity in their respective neighborhoods. In separate interviews, Schusterman and Silverman said they appreciated people using Nextdoor to document instances of hate but also reminded people it is important to inform local law enforcement agencies and report them to the ADL, which compiles a record of reported hate incidents and crimes.
“Obviously we want people to call us when we have anti-Semitic incidents or crimes,” Schusterman said, “or to call the police.”