HOLLYWOOD, Fla., May 23 (JTA) Florida police announced this week that a suspect has been identified but not yet arrested in an anti-Semitic vandalism. Four painted swastikas and a message saying “Burn the Jews” were discovered by a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy at the YiddishKeit Judaica book and gift shop in Boca Raton on Sunday morning. The sheriff’s office spokeswoman, Teri Barbera, reported that similar messages were found on a Chrysler Voyager minivan in the center’s parking lot. The minivan belonged to a non-Jewish florist who was out of town when the graffiti was painted early Sunday. Local television stations gave the incident heavy coverage throughout the day Sunday and Monday. Owner Joseph Brooks said that in early March, vandals painted a small swastika on one of his store windows. “This is the second time this year that I’ve been a target of hateful graffiti,” Brooks said. “I’m shocked and worried because before it was a little thing and now it’s on the entire storefront. I can’t know if the two incidents are related but I’m concerned about the escalation of this.” Bill Gralnick, regional director of the American Jewish Committee, suspects that schoolchildren committed the vandalism which he says increases as the end of the school year approaches. The last day for most students this year will be May 31. Seeing the images was disturbing for Rick Alovis, president of Temple Beth Shira, located close to the plaza. “This happened in our own backyard,” Alovis said. “I was shocked and saddened by the realization that anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, intolerance and ignorance are still very much a part of the world we live in.” Brooks praised both the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County and the Anti-Defamation League for their immediate involvement and concern. “These acts serve one purpose, and one purpose only, and that is to threaten, to intimidate and to harass the entire community,” said Rabbi Andrew Rosenkranz, Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL’s annual audit reported 199 anti-Semitic incidents in Florida in 2005, up from 173 in 2004, 102 in 2003 and 93 in 2002. Last year in South Florida, reports of anti-Semitic acts included graffiti painted on a synagogue in Homestead; mezuzahs removed from the doorposts of private homes in Boca Raton; a swastika drawn on a public sidewalk in Boynton Beach and anti-Semitic graffiti painted on a gas station in Tamarac. An increase in neo-Nazi activity is cited as a major cause for the rise in numbers. In addition to Florida, states where frequent hate crimes against Jews have been committed are New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Brooks says he’s received tremendous support from the community. “Many people have taken the time to call and come over here. The police have also been most cooperative and take this case very seriously.” The Palm Beach Post reported that word of the vandalism spread quickly, prompting Paul Smith and Hans Juergen, tourists from Berlin, to stop by. “We were so upset, we decided to come and give Brooks a hand,” said Smith, who is Jewish. “This happens every day in Berlin but” South Florida “is the last place you would expect it.” The shop owner told of how three boys belonging to the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization that were visiting the mall on Sunday morning entered his shop and offered to help remove the swastikas and graffiti. Brooks thanked the boys and asked them to come back Monday after the police were done with their investigation. “They returned with their counselor, and now you wouldn’t even know something had been painted on the windows,” Brooks said. “But this unfortunately did happen and it is a troubling sign of hatred towards Jewish people that everyone should be aware of.”
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