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Synagogue Reopenings Now on Hold After Protests

After being closed for almost three months because of the coronavirus, Baba Sale Congregation on Fairfax Avenue was looking forward to welcoming worshippers this past Shabbat, after houses of worship received permission to reopen.

However, the French-Moroccan congregation’s plans were derailed on May 30, when protests decrying the death of George Floyd in police custody turned violent. Along with many other synagogues and Jewish shops, Baba Sale was spray-painted with graffiti that included “f— pigs,” “help minorities” and “BLM,” an abbreviation for Black Lives Matter.

Baba Sale had reopened on the evening of May 28 for Shavuot but now it has closed again. President Igal Azran released a statement noting the “tragic death of George Floyd in Minnesota” and telling congregants Baba Sale would be closed “until further notice.”

On May 31, Rabbi Moshe Pinto arrived at the shul to find hundreds of people, including those unaffiliated with the community, removing the spray paint and cleaning the exterior’s stained-glass windows.

Baba Sale Congregation, located on Fairfax avenue, was spray-painted with graffiti during last weekend’s protest in the Fairfax district. Courtesy of Baba Sale Congregation

Also vandalized in the Fairfax District was Congregation Beth Israel, with graffiti stating “free Palestine” and “f— Israel.” Lisa Daftari, founder and editor of the foreign policy news outlet The Foreign Desk, first reported on the graffiti on social media.

“Synagogue Congregation Beth El (sic) on Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles vandalized… Tell me this ugly hatred is still about #BLM or #GeorgeFloyd?!” she tweeted.

American Jewish Committee Los Angeles Regional Director Richard S. Hirschhaut said in a statement to the Journal, “It is deplorable that certain protestors in Los Angeles today resorted to violence and vandalism. Sadly, their destructive opportunism included the defacing of Congregation Beth Israel, one of the oldest synagogues in Los Angeles and the spiritual home to many Holocaust survivors over the years. The epithets scrawled on the synagogue wall do nothing to advance the cause of peace or justice, here or abroad.”

“It seems pretty obvious a group of instigators are causing a lot of this unrest.” — Irving Lebovics

Dr. Irving Lebovics, a dentist and member of Congregation Kehilas Yaakov, an Orthodox congregation on Beverly Boulevard, said all the synagogues and Jewish schools in the Fairfax area were defaced during the May 30 protests.

As chairman of Agudath Israel of California, an umbrella organization that advocates for the Orthodox Jewish community, Lebovics has been involved in the effort to reopen synagogues. He said he was disappointed that the demonstrations have delayed the synagogues’ long-awaited reopenings. “It seems pretty obvious,” he said, “a group of instigators are causing a lot of this unrest.”

Additional reporting by Aaron Bandler 

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