Labor Day weekend is supposed to be a time of celebration and relaxation as many mark the unofficial end of summer and the beginning of another school year. However, this Labor Day weekend was marred by incidents that have caused sadness, anger, shock and even fear.
At around 3 p.m. on Friday, August 30, members of the Silver Gull Beach Club near Breezy Point were shocked to find part of a place that many call an oasis, covered in painted messages of hate. Words such as “gas chamber,” “heil Hitler,” “N*****” and symbols such as swastikas, adorned the walls of an arts and crafts shack utilized by the club’s children. But that was just the beginning of incidents that bookended the holiday weekend.
In the early morning hours of Monday, September 2, as the sun rose and people began their day with a walk or jog along the beach, they were stopped in their tracks on Beach 138th Street. “F***n Jews,” “White Pride” “14/88,” and Nazi symbols were scattered across the sand.
Word quickly spread about both incidents, A New York Times article about the Silver Gull incident was published and shared on Sunday, and on Monday morning, shortly after the messages on the beach were discovered, photos spread across Facebook.
Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato was the first of many elected officials to speak out against the acts. “I was horrified and disgusted to learn of not only one, but two incidents in our community this weekend where Nazi imagery and anti-Semitic graffiti were discovered,” she said in a Facebook post. “The fact that these images were discovered means that there is a systematic attempt to intimidate this community. We must continue to demonstrate that our love and commitment to our community is stronger than their attempt to instill fear and intimidation. We must stand up together against this bigotry and intolerance.” Councilmen Eric Ulrich and Donovan Richards, Senator Joseph Addabbo, Rep. Gregory Meeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio and others also condemned the attacks.
Upon the discovery of the graffiti at the Silver Gull, police were immediately called. As Silver Gull is on federal land, the United States Park Police responded to this incident. The National Park Service (NPS) released a statement, saying, “This weekend’s incident of racist graffiti and vandalism at the Silver Gull Beach Club, a concession facility within Gateway National Recreation Area, was a hateful assault on the people of New York and the NPS. The U.S. Park Police is leading an investigation and will work with local authorities and the management of Silver Gull to determine what happened. We will make every effort to identify the culprits and pursue justice against those who so savagely debased a place of rest and relaxation for all New Yorkers along the beautiful shores of the Rockaways.” Additionally, Governor Andrew Cuomo dispatched New York State Police and those from the state’s Hate Crimes Task Force to assist in the investigation to “ensure the cowards responsible are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
The NYPD responded to the Beach 138th incident. “A report for aggravated harassment was recorded and the Hate Crime Task Force was notified of the incident. There are no arrests and the investigation is ongoing,” an NYPD spokesperson said. The NYPD also revealed some shocking statistics. Anti-Semitic hate crimes are on the rise. By this time last year, there were 93 anti-Semitic hate crime complaints. This year—152 so far. They also pointed out that hate crimes in general are increasing, from 205 in 2018, to 290 so far this year.
The messages are now gone. The beach writings were wiped away from the sand. According to members, the area where the graffiti was found at the Silver Gull has been boarded up. But while the messages can be erased, their impact cannot.
“Silver Gull can fix the damage done to the building, but you can’t fix the emotional and psychological impact this has on people,” one Silver Gull member who happens to be Jewish said. “It made me feel very sad. My father, who is gone a long time, was a World War II veteran, and this is the very thing that he fought against. It makes me sad that there’s still so much hatred in the world.”
A Rockaway resident who came across the beach messages on Monday said she was left shaking after reading the words. “I was out taking my dog for a walk and I came across this, 10 blocks from my house. It was beyond disturbing. As the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, this took a place for me that was my sanctuary, my serenity, and destroyed it,” the resident said.
The question now remains —where do we go from here? With both incidents still under investigation, it is not known who committed each act, why they committed them, and if they were connected. As they await more information, local religious leaders are trying to determine the next best steps.
“This is horrible,” West End Temple’s Rabbi Marjorie Slome said. “But we have to let law enforcement do their job and investigate before we can speak out. Let’s find out who did this. Early in this investigation, we should be concerned about whether or not these words can lead to violence. I absolutely value free speech, but I think we can do better, and until we know more about this and who did this, I think we all need to do a better job at being kinder to one another and not use our words to destroy others. There needs to be more dialogue and education and relationship building in the Rockaways so that people who have feelings of hate and distress understand how hurtful they can be. The Jewish community is very sensitive about things that begin with words, and have throughout our history, ended in violence. I will try to work with community leadership on making Rockaway a kinder place and I’m looking forward to working with people to develop ways to combat hate on a community level.”
Rabbi Tsvi Selengut of Belle Harbor’s Ohab Zedek synagogue says he’s already seen kindness at work in response to the recent events. “This is something that’s upsetting everyone in the community, but the good thing I’ve seen come from this is that it is upsetting our neighbors as well. I’ve had people walk up to me on the street and give their support and that is what is important. Anti-Semitism isn’t just a Jewish problem. It’s all of our problem and it’s something all of us have to confront and I’m happy to see our politicians and neighbors standing up and saying that this is not acceptable in our neighborhood,” he said, adding that he’s working with other leaders to come up with a formal response to these incidents as the investigation is pending.
The important thing, says Rabbi Tsvi Selengut, is that this issue isn’t being ignored. “After we went to see the messages on Beach 138th, they were brushed away from the sand. It brushed away very easily, but for us, it’s not brushed away easily and this sticks with us,” he said. “There are so many times that we overlook these things, but as attacks increase across the city, it’s important that we don’t just brush this away. We all care about this and many have been overwhelmingly supportive, because we all want to have a nice, quiet, respectful neighborhood. We want people to not just let this pass, but to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS