CARMEL — More than 1,000 community leaders, faith leaders and residents filled the Congregation Shaarey Tefilla Monday evening in a massive show of support to the synagogue after anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered on the property over the weekend.
“‘Those who love God hate evil,’” Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow said, addressing the crowd. “…There is no better way than to fight evil with arms linked as a community.”
The graffiti, which depicted Nazi flags and iron crosses, was spray-painted on the walls of a brick shed on the property. There also appeared to be burn marks in the grass in front of one of the flags and on the wall.
The vandalism is believed to have occurred late Friday or early Saturday and was discovered Saturday morning. Carmel police and federal authorities are investigating.
In a written statement Monday, Carmel Mayor James Brainard asked residents to fly American flags in a show of solidarity with the congregation.
“The recent actions go against every principle that our country stands for, dating back to our founding,” he said. “This is now an opportunity to teach those who may not understand the ramifications felt by real people in the face of intolerance.”
In response to the incident, the Anti-Defamation League announced Monday it is offering a $2,500 reward in exchange for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those involved.
“All they (those responsible) have done is awakened the sleeping giant of love and acceptance and mutual respect,” Sendrow said. “This gathering is who we are.”
The more than 20 groups represented at Monday’s gathering emphatically condemned the graffiti still cordoned off with yellow police tape just outside the synagogue. Their representatives spoke of love, forgiveness and the power that can be found in embracing diversity.
They also called upon Indiana lawmakers — some of whom were represented in the audience — to act.
Indiana is among five states in the country without a hate crime law on the books. Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday called on lawmakers to pass such a law during the next legislative session.
“Hoosier hospitality has no room for hate,” said Aliya Amin, executive director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana.
Janice Roger, an Indianapolis resident and a retired cantor, said she believes it’s possible for people from different backgrounds to come together and make that change, and she was hopeful Monday evening’s event would empower those in attendance to do just that.
“I think that no matter who we are and what we believe, there’s a potential in every one of us to be good, to do good and to care about somebody else,” she said. “And if we would reach deep within ourselves to find that goodness and act on the goodness instead of the hatred, then true change might come about.”
Although the sanctuary was full by the time the event began, residents continued to stream in. By the end of the hour, there were more than 1,000 supporters spilling out of the synagogue.
Tears flooded Corey Freedman’s eyes as he reflected on the size of the crowd.
“It wasn’t what they said, but that they were here,” Freedman, president of the congregation’s board, told IndyStar. “That they were lifting us up.”
Freedman’s in-laws, Francis and Aron Zoldan, are Holocaust survivors. His father-in-law, now 91, was held for a time at Auschwitz, among other camps.
“To know what they went through … it’s amazing in the fact that they made it through,” he said. “Horrifying to hear what they went through.”
The suffering they endured is unimaginable. He hopes that people who hold hateful sentiments would see that our differences shouldn’t be the source of our division.
“The diversity that we have in the world,” he said, “provides us so much opportunity to really enjoy each other.”
Call IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at 317-444-6156. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.