PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — A red swastika spray-painted at a Pawtucket synagogue was widely condemned by local and state leaders Sunday, as Pawtucket Police opened an investigation into the vandalism.
“This is the kind of thing that makes your whole body roil inside if you’re a Jew,” said David Pliskin, the president of Congregation Ohawe Sholam. It’s the only Jewish house of worship in Pawtucket.
Pliskin says the Orthodox congregation includes descendants of Holocaust survivors, to whom the swastika – which adorned Nazi flags during World War II – is a painful reminder of the genocide.
“It’s like someone trying to stab you in the heart again,” he said.
Pliskin called the vandalism a hate crime, and said he doesn’t believe it was a childish prank.
“This person clearly had some knowledge,” he said. “A lot of people draw the swastika with a cross, but this person has actually done it the way it was done on the Nazi flag, with an ‘X’.”
The vandalism was immediately condemned by many, as the Mayors of Providence and Pawtucket called for a joint news conference Monday morning to address the issue of anti-Semitism in the area.
The Bishop of the Diocese of Providence also weighed in, calling the vandalism “demonic and depressing.” In an emailed statement, Bishop Thomas Tobin said: “The members of the Catholic Church in Rhode Island stand in spiritual solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters, now and always.”
Congressman David Cicilline, who is scheduled to attend Monday’s news conference, also spoke out fiercely against the crime.
“I’m angry and disgusted,” Cicilline said in a statement, “This despicable act of vandalism has only one purpose – to intimidate members of our community and it won’t succeed.”
This is one of several recent incidents of anti-Semitism in the area. Several blocks from the Pawtucket synagogue on Providence’s East Side, flyers were distributed in October that contained racist and anti-Semitic remarks, along with bags of a substance that turned out to be rice.
The flyers referred to solving “Jewish pollution.”
Pliskin said the congregation didn’t immediately wash away the swastika, as a reminder that bigotry against Jews still exists.
“While it may be small, it’s still there,” he said.