PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The oldest synagogue in the Pacific Northwest, Congregation Beth Israel, was vandalized with a death threat and scorch marks over the weekend.
The attack comes days after Beth Israel hosted a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony where witnesses to the mass murder event spoke and community leaders read the names of Holocaust victims.
“Then to experience a resurgence of antisemitic hate speech is certainly something that affects all of us deeply,” said Beth Israel’s Senior Rabbi Michael Cahana.
Cahana says the synagogue has dealt with smaller spats of antisemitism over the past few years, but none as obvious as the Nazi-era threat spray-painted on the building’s wall. Combined with the scorch marks, he contacted the FBI and Portland Police.
Cahana says he passed on law enforcement’s support and attentiveness to the situation to his congregates.
“I’m telling my members not to be afraid, that we should never be frightened to come into our house of worship. This is a safe space, it is a sanctuary, and it remains a sanctuary,” Cahana said
Cahana says there is no indication that the vandalism is part of a wider pattern or plot, outside of a general rise in antisemitic incidents across the nation.
Last week, the Antidefamation League released a report showing an increase in antisemitic incidents in Oregon, whether that be assaults, harassment, or vandalism, which rose in 2021.
Congregation Beth Israel’s history dates back to 1858. Cahana says it’s a “landmark of the Jewish Community in Oregon.”
The synagogue has seen a slew of hate speech and attacks in its long history. Around 100 years ago, the original building was burned down in an attack Cahana says is believed to be antisemitic as well.
“This is something we have to learn about, understand that history and understand those remnants of white supremacy, neo-nazism, exist in our community and we can’t close our eyes to it,” he said.
Cahana also says that’s a challenge for everyone inside the Jewish faith. He worries antisemitic remarks and sentiments some people may consider minor or vague hold meaning and can grow into something more threatening.
“The Jewish experience has been that hate speech—if not countered, if not made public—can turn into violent actions,” he said.
The Portland Police Bureau has a bias and hate crime hotline at 503-823-3333.