Police are investigating what an Anti-Defamation League official called a “hate incident” after anti-gay graffiti was found scrawled on the door of a Beverly Hills synagogue’s all-genders bathroom last month.
The profanity-laden message, discovered after an Oct. 15 bat mitzvah party at Temple Emanuel, contained slurs against liberals, gays and lesbians, as well as the synagogue’s rabbi.
“It was definitely a hate incident and, because it took place at a temple, it could be an anti-Semitic incident,” said ADL regional director Amanda Susskind, who is a Temple Emanuel member. “We’re still trying to sort that though.”
Eric Reiter, the temple’s executive director, said the synagogue’s video surveillance system captured a suspect on camera. Reiter declined to identify the suspect, an adult male who he said had a confrontation with a temple security guard that evening. The family holding the bat mitzvah party belongs to Temple Emanuel; the suspect does not.
Beverly Hills police are seeking to obtain the surveillance video, which could yield clues about the alleged crime, Sgt. Max Seubin said in a phone interview.
An Oct. 26 statement co-signed by Temple Emanuel Senior Rabbi Jonathan Aaron and President Barry Brucker described the suspect as a “non-member attendee [who] vandalized our all-gender bathroom and wrote angry, hateful words against the LGBTQ community, and threatening language directed toward temple clergy.”
“We condemn this act of hatred and do not tolerate hate crimes in our synagogue and beyond,” the statement said.
On Oct. 29, the synagogue held a town hall meeting to discuss what took place and to address any community members’ concerns. Brucker referenced the incident as he addressed congregants during Friday night services on Nov. 3.
The defaced bathroom is located in the synagogue’s sanctuary building, at 300 N. Clark Drive, next to men’s and women’s restrooms and adjacent to the synagogue’s reception hall. A sign next to the door says, “This restroom may be used by any person regardless of gender identity or expression.”
The bathroom was a single-stall family bathroom before Temple Emanuel’s Associate Rabbi Sarah Bassin enlisted the help of JQ International — a Jewish LGBT support organization — to transform it into an all-genders bathroom in 2015.
The vandalism occurred as many Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and non-denominational communities are introducing gender-neutral bathrooms. In the Los Angeles area, these include egalitarian community IKAR and Reform synagogues Stephen S. Wise Temple, Temple Adat Elohim and Kol Tikvah.
Rabbi Rachel Bat-Or, director of the JQ Helpline and Inclusion Services, said many Jewish day schools, synagogues and other institutions from the liberal Jewish movements have inquired about ways to fund the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms.
“It is a radical statement for a synagogue to make and one that is really welcomed by the LGBTQ community,” she said. “We know if we walk into that organization, even if we see only that sign, we know we have stepped into an LGBTQ-inclusive organization and we can assume there are other ways they welcome the LGBTQ community.”
“It was definitely a hate incident and it could be an anti-Semitic incident.” — Amanda Susskind
In separate interviews, Aaron and Bat-Or said they considered the vandalism at Temple Emanuel an affront to progressive Judaism.
“It is a hate crime against Jews but more specifically a crime against progressive Judaism and liberalism — two values I will stand by until I die — to be progressive and liberal and accepting of everybody,” Aaron said.
“I don’t think that it was particularly a Jewish crime — it was an LGBTQ crime,” Bat-Or said. “The fact that it was done in a Reform synagogue and the word, ‘liberalism,’ was used was hate speech against the rabbis and hate speech against liberal progressive Judaism.”
Scott Stone, who is gay and serves on the temple’s board, said he and his partner have two teenage children who spend a lot of time at the synagogue. Years ago, Stone chaired the synagogue’s capital campaign for a renovation of the building where the incident occurred.
“We think of the temple and its buildings as our spiritual home,” he said. “To have someone enter our temple and vandalize it with homophobic and anti-reform Jewish graffiti is as if they broke into our actual home and did the same.”