Religions and Spirituality

Authorities investigating anti-Semitism incident in Highland Park

Credits: Courtesy of Elaine Dean

HIGHLAND PARK, NJ - Authorities are investigating an alleged incident of anti-Semitism early Thursday morning, where a resident found an envelope on her front lawn, covered in anti-Semitic drawings.

The investigation is being conducted jointly between the Highland Park Police Department and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office Bias Crimes Unit, according to HPPD Police Chief Stephen Rizco.

“I can tell you that we will do everything we can to try to find out who did this in our community,” Rizco said.

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The victim, longtime Highland Park resident Elaine Dean, said she found the envelope on her front lawn early Thursday morning.

The outside of the package sported drawings of a middle finger, a Nazi swastika and vulgar descriptions of Jews, Dena said, while the inside contained garbage, cigarette butts and dog excrement.

“I have always expressed my opinion about what life should be like in Highland Park and this is not the kind of thing that we want to see here or that we will tolerate,” said Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler.

Dean describes herself as Jewish, though she’s not actively religious or involved with any local synagogue. Her 10-year-old daughter attends a private Jewish school nearby.

The town has a large Jewish population and sports half a dozen synagogues, a Kosher pizza place, a Judaica gallery and an extensive Israeli and Kosher food section at the borough’s local grocery store.

“This stuff just doesn’t happen,” Dean said.

“We hope this is an isolated incident and this doesn’t reoccur,” Rizco said. “But we’re doing everything we can to see if we can track down who’s done this.”

One theory Dean had was that the envelope was placed on her lawn by angry neighbors, who were seeking retaliation against Dean for having four dogs.

Dean said she’d received verbal complaints from neighbors, saying they were frustrated with the noise her dogs were making. Though she disputed the notion that the dogs were noisy, or that she was violating any local noise ordinances.

Though even if the incident was retaliation, Dean said, whoever left the flyer had gone too far.

“Dogs bark and you talk to them” said longtime resident Michael Garber, referring to the owners and not the dogs, “You don’t put anti-Semitic diatribe.”

Michael has been living in Highland Park just shy of 30 years, along with his wife, Sharon Garber, who owns the Covered Girl store on Raritan Avenue.

The store serves religious women such as more observant Jew, but also caters to Muslims, Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists in search of more modest clothing.

Sharon Garber has been running the store for six years. She and Michael Garber, both self-described Jews, say they’re active in Congregation Ohav Emeth.

“It’s upsetting,” Sharon Garber said, adding that since she’s moved to Highland Park, the Jewish population has steadily grown.

“If you drive around town, you’ll find on many resident’s lawns, the ‘Hate Has No Home Here’ signs,” Brill Mittler said. “And we all feel that way.”

Nearby at Rutgers University, the Jewish population there is still reeling from a slew of anti-Semitic incidents across campus.

The weekend before Halloween, a Nazi swastika was found painted on a dorm near the Rutgers dining hall, and shortly before that, a Rutgers food science professor was found to have allegedly shared dozens of anti-Semitic posts on his Facebook.

Most recently, reports surfaced that a Rutgers international relations professor was allegedly an ambassador for Syria and the regime of Bashar al-Assad during the Syrian Civil War, and accused Israel of trafficking human organs.

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