January 18, 2020

Beverly Hills Persian Synagogue Vandalized Over Shabbat

UPDATE:
This story was updated on Dec. 16 to include local reactions
UPDATE: Dec 14, 3 p.m.

At around 2 p.m. the Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) held a press conference outside Nessah Synagogue and issued a statement saying the department is “actively investigating a series of vandalism(s) that occurred in the city of Beverly Hills overnight.”

 

According to BHPD, police responded to a call from Nessah Synagogue shortly after 7 a.m., after an employee notified security when he arrived for work and found an open door and items ransacked inside the synagogue.

Photos courtesy Nessah Synagogue

Police believe a lone male suspect committed what they are describing as a “series of minor vandalisms as he traversed through the Rexford/Elm alley south of Wilshire during the early morning hours.”

Photos courtesy Nessah Synagogue

Police say the same suspect – described as a white male aged 20-25, who was captured on the synagogue’s security cameras — then made his way to Nessah at approximately 2 a.m. and forced his way into the synagogue.

Photos courtesy Nessah Synagogue

According to the police statement, “He then moved through the synagogue, heavily ransacking the interior. He overturned furniture and distributed brochures and material throughout the interior. He damaged several Jewish relics but fortunately the main [Torah] scrolls survived unscathed.”

Photo courtesy George Haroonian

However, the “unkosher” Torah scrolls below the bimah were destroyed and thrown on the ground of the synagogue.

Photos courtesy Nessah Synagogue

Police said it does not appear that anything was stolen. No one was inside the synagogue at the time and no one was injured. Although the police are investigating this as a hate crime, they say the suspect left no markings or other overt signs of anti-Semitism. Police are still searching for the suspect.

Photos courtesy Nessah Synagogue

Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch issued a statement saying, “This cowardly attack hits at the heart of who we are as a community. It is not just an attack on the Jewish community of Beverly Hills, it is an attack on all of us. The entire city stands in solidarity behind Nessah, its members and congregants. We are committed to catching the criminal who desecrated a holy place on Shabbat — of all days — and bringing him to justice.”

Photos courtesy Nessah Synagogue

There were no services at Nessah synagogue on Saturday morning. While some people arrived to discover the shul cordoned off, others received phone calls from members and friends prior to services, informing them what had happened.

Photos courtesy Nessah Synagogue

AJC Regional Director Richard Hirschhaut was at the scene and told the Journal, “We’re very pleased the Beverly Hills Police Department is treating this investigation as a presumptive hate crime. There is a term in law, ‘the thing speaks for itself,’ and we believe, and we concur, this indeed is a grotesque act of hate and we look forward to the perpetrator being brought to justice.”

Photo courtesy George Haroonian

He added, “We stand in solidarity with the good people of Nessah Synagogue and the City of Beverly Hills and its official entities to assist in the investigation and in the healing of this terrible episode.”
Sam Kermanian, a senior advisor to the Iranian American Jewish Federation and a self-described “unofficial member” of Nessah, told the Journal, “I’m here to thank BHPD for their tremendous response.”

Photo courtesy George Haroonian

Shortly after the attack, local resident Isaac Yomtovian sent out a statement saying:
“We, the Jews of LA and the US, must resist and fight these anti-Semitic acts, especially the destruction of our halls of prayers and homes of our holy scrolls of Torah…The forces of evil must face justice.  To do so, we must become united and vocal, demanding from our community, regional and national leaders to take action and stop the hatred of free citizens of United States.  Any and all acts of anti-Semitism must be recognized as an act of hate and punished by the laws of US.  [The] FBI must do its job better and better each day.

Photo by Ryan Torok

“I highly recommend that (1) A day of fast be declared by all Iranian rabbis for the destruction of our holy scrolls of Torah; (2) The day of fast should include lighting of the Hanukkah menorah and demonstrations in front of the mayor’s office, the offices of our senators and congressmen, as well as the Federal building; (3) The entire Jewish population of LA must be mobilized to light the Hanukkah (Freedom) menorah in the streets and at home. (4)  We must reject these acts of antisemitism by writing to our senators and congressmen, and finally (5)  Demanding the  FBI investigate these hate crimes and bring these thugs to justice.”
Nessah’s board of directors issued a statement on Dec. 15 noting that the synagogue was reopened on the afternoon of Dec. 14 and “all classes and activities resumed as usual.”

The board also stated, “Whether this crime was committed by a hateful bigot, or a common thug who seized an opportunity to trespass and vandalize, we will not be intimidated. Rather, we are propelled to unite as a community, to unite with fellow Jews, and to stand strong with good people of all faiths.”

Several community members spoke with the Journal the day after the attack.  Cardiologist Afshine Emrani said he received text messages from friends about the break in.

“It took me immediately back to when we had to leave Iran during the revolution,” he said. “And I wondered if we would one day have to flee America, the country that has been my home for the past 40 years and I’ve come to love.”

At Elat Market in Pico-Robertson Kevin Shokou called the attack “anti-Semitic” and “anti-humanity. There’s really nothing different between Jews, Muslims or anybody.”

Having lived in the U.S. for 30 years, Shokou said he found it troubling that there were still people with hatred in their hearts for Jews or any religious group. “It’s strange there are people living in this country who hate the Jews,” he said. “It’s very awful.”

Ben Soleimani, who occasionally attends services at Nessah said he was walking to Nessah on Saturday morning when he saw the block cordoned off by police. “It was hate,” he said.

The attack drew condemnation far and wide.

Sam Yebri, president and co-founder of the Jewish-Iranian organization 30 Years After issue a statement saying, “30 Years After condemns in the strongest terms the act of vandalism that took place this Shabbat at the Nessah Israel Synagogue in Beverly Hills. In our society, no crime in any house of worship can be tolerated. We thank the Beverly Hills Police Department for their vigilance and support.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted: “shocked and outraged by the vandalism at Nessah Synagogue. `We will stand together and speak out strongly against any act of
hate and intolerance in our community. `We’re keeping our friends and neighbors in our thoughts as police investigate.”

Rep. Ted. Lieu (D-CA) posted on Facebook on Dec. 15: “Appalled that our neighbors, the congregation of Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, were victims of vandalism overnight. We must condemn in the strongest terms acts of intolerance and anti-Semitism, and ensure that everyone in our community feels safe in their houses of worship.”

The Israeli-American Civil Action Network released the following statement: “Enough is enough, from the East Coast to the West Coast, Jewish communities are under attack,” said Vered Nisim, ICAN California Chairwoman. “Just a few days ago Jews were killed in Jersey City, and now today this vandalism, how many Jews have to die and how many synagogues have to be destroyed before serious action is taken?”

The Israeli-American Civil Action Network also has convened a Town Hall on Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. the Beverly Hilton under the banner Combating Anti-Semitism: Creating Safe Communities. Attendance is free but RSVP is required. Click here to reserve tickets: 

 

Police have released this photo of the suspect. Surveillance video shows the suspect has
short dark curly hair, a thin build, possibly wearing prescription
glasses, shorts, low-top shoes (possibly Pumas). BHPD Lt. Elisabeth Albanese said he carried a backpack and pulled a rolling suitcase. Anyone with any information should contact the Beverly Hills Police Department at 310-285-2125.

Jewish Journal Managing Editor Kelly Hartog contributed to this report.

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Dec. 14, 12 p.m.
The Beverly Hills Police Department is investigating an apparent break in that took place at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills at 142 S. Rexford Dr.
 BHPD Lt. Robert Maycott told the Journal the incident was still under investigation and no details have yet been released as to exactly when or how the incident occurred. At around 11:40 a.m. Dec. 14, police stated they would hold a press conference “shortly.”
Nessah Synagogue is one the largest Iranian Jewish synagogues. Police closed down the block between Charleville and Wilshire Boulevards. Papers were strewn around the entrance to the synagogue alongside yellow police tape.