By Gabe Stutman
This story was produced by J. The Jewish News of Northern California and is co-published here with permission.
Antisemitic vandals set fire to a sign welcoming visitors to Congregation Beth Israel in Chico earlier this week.
The vandalism, discovered Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 2) by a temple assistant in the college town, marks the latest in a series of antisemitic outbursts in the Sacramento Valley in recent months. In late August, four black-clad activists, members of a white supremacist cell, hung banners above a highway near UC Davis claiming the Holocaust “is an anti-white lie” and “Communism is Jewish.” Sacramento State University has dealt with repeated acts of pro-Nazi vandalism since the start of the fall semester, prompting the mayor to speak at a press conference to decry hate.
Synagogue leaders called an emergency board meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the incident. Leaders said in a statement they were in contact with Chico police, the Anti-Defamation League and the Secure Community Network, a nonprofit monitoring threats to Jewish communities across North America.
Rabbi Lisa Rappaport said in a phone call Thursday that the crime was “incredibly disturbing and distressing,” though considering the recent rise in highly visible antisemitic hate incidents and anti-Jewish rhetoric on the national stage, it was “not surprising.”
“We’re all sort of braced and ready for something like this,” she said.
Earlier this year Chico saw an antisemitic flyer campaign similar to those spearheaded by the Goyim Defense League, a virulently antisemitic network led by a Petaluma man. In online forums the GDL has boasted about trying to paper all 50 states with anti-Jewish propaganda; its flyers claim Jews are responsible for the Covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other ills.
In a press release, the Chico Police Department said it was investigating the Beth Israel vandalism as a hate crime. Investigators discovered a lighter at the scene, which will be treated as evidence. A spokesperson told J. Thursday that the department would not be releasing further information about the investigation but that officers were “still working on it.”
The synagogue is hoping to upgrade its security camera system and has applied for a government security grant to do so. Beth Israel has also asked the CPD to increase police patrols, particularly during services, and is seeking “volunteers” in the community to monitor the grounds during religious school while children are in the building.
“Volunteers will be provided panic button lanyards that activate the building alarm system,” the synagogue said in an email to the community.
In addition to scorching a portion of the sign, the vandals defaced it with drawn Nazi symbols, including a swastika. Beth Israel said it would be replacing the sign on Friday.
Rappaport said she was encouraged by the “strong outpouring of support” the synagogue has received from Jewish communities and from members of other faiths.
“We’ll be strong together,” she said.
Chico police have asked anyone with information about the incident to contact the department at (530) 897-4900.