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Anti-Semitic Graffiti Found at South Mountain Reservation; Community Responds

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Anti-Semitic graffiti on pedestrian bridge at South Mountain Reservation.
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Anti-Semitic graffiti on pedestrian bridge at South Mountain Reservation.
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Anti-Semitic grafiti was removed by Essex County Parks on Tuesday.
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Removal of anti-Semitic graffiti from pedestrian bridge. Credits: Jon Levine
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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - Anti-Semitic graffiti was found on the pedestrian bridge that crosses South Orange Ave., at the South Mountain Reservation. Removal of the graffiti by Essex County Park employees began shortly after it was reported on Tuesday morning.

According to an update from South Orange Village President Sheena Collum on her Facebook page, she first found out about the graffiti at about 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, when a resident shared photos of the bridge with her.

Upon learning of the graffiti, "the South Orange administration and public works departments coordinated immediately with the County and within one hour, the County Parks Department staff were out addressing the situation," stated Collum on Facebook.

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Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura stated in a press release that investigators from his department are working with the Prosecutor’s Bias Crime Unit regarding "swastikas and intolerant language that were spray-painted on the equestrian bridge at South Mountain Reservation within the past 24 hours."

“This incident clearly supersedes mere mischievous behavior or graffiti and it cannot and will not be tolerated,” Sheriff Fontoura said. “We have already increased our uniformed and plainclothes patrols in the area. We have also deployed security cameras to this location. Furthermore, we have contacted and reinforced our security measures with the many Jewish community groups where our Bomb Squad and K-9 Unit have already been deployed.”

A cash reward of up to $10,000 for information in the case that leads to an arrest is available through the Crimestoppers program.

Many area rabbis were at the site to assist in the graffiti removal, including Rabbi Dan Cohen of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, and Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El in South Orange.

Gewirtz stated in an email to TAPinto SOMA: "The hatred seems to be rampant these days….it rattles the soul of our community  I am heartened by the rapid response of local clergy and civil officials. We all need to stand together against hate and stand up in pride for who we are as a community"

Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El in South Orange posted to his Facebook page, "Thanks to the Essex County Park System for responding so quickly and swiftly to Anti-Semitic hate graffiti in South Mountain Reservation. This isn't who we are as a community and we won't let this graffiti define us."

Colllum posted to Facebook, "I'm incredibly disheartened that even in our towns which are known for our inclusion and diversity are not immune to the hatred that exists but at the same time, I remain inspired by the reactions and actions of our clergy, community leaders, and residents to stand up in solidarity against any act of hatred or bigotry. Continue the activism and fight back with love." 

Rep. Donald M. Payne also condemned the act of anti-Semitism, stating on Facebook, "I was disgusted to hear about this senseless act of anti-Semitism at the South Mountain Reservation Bridge. The wave of anti-Semitic threats around the country, including in New Jersey, is chilling, and we as a community must stand together against this hate. My deepest thanks and appreciation to the Essex County workers who swiftly removed the graffiti."

A "Candlelight Peace Patrol at the South Mountain Reservation Bridge" is planned for Tuesday evening from 5:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., details here. The event page on Facebook states, "Today, our community was defaced by anti-Semitic graffiti. We will stand up and say that we will not accept this. Please bring CANDLES and posters/artwork/messages of love, and meet at the bridge over South Orange Avenue at 5:45 for an informal candlelight peace patrol."

SOMA Action's Human Rights Committee will meet on Wednesday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m. at Beth El (222 Irvington Ave. in South Orange) to discuss this incident as well as have a general discussion about religious rights and "supporting people targeted by anti-Semitism and Islamophobia" according to an update on Facebook.

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