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Tucson synagogue vandalized with swastika, antisemitic slur

A rabbi heading to teach a Torah class found antisemitic graffiti painted on a side door at the Chabad on River synagogue in Midtown Tucson on Monday morning. 

Rabbi Ram Bigelman said that he found the graffiti, which included a large Nazi swastika painted on the outside door, along with an ethnic slur for Jews. 

"We've had break-ins before, but we've never had any kind of antisemitism here," said Bigelman, one of the co-directors of Chabad on River, on East Ft. Lowell Road near North Alvernon Way. "Obviously, we are very disturbed about the rise of antisemitism, but we are determined to continue, and even increase Jewish education here."

Members of the Tucson Police Department's street crimes interdiction unit, who investigate potential hate crimes, were continuing to patrol the area on Tuesday afternoon, looking for signs of additional graffiti, said TPD spokesman Frank Magos. 

Magos said that the vandalism was committed over the weekend, sometime between 8 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. Monday morning, and that officials were asking for the public's help. 

The vandalism was first reported by COLLive, a Jewish Orthodox news service, and later shared on Twitter by state Rep. Alma Hernandez. "When it happens to one, it happens to all of us," she wrote. "The amount of Jewish hate isn't shocking. The silence is."

In widely shared photos, the side entrance to Chabad is marked by a red swastika spray-painted on the door, with the misspelled phrase "dirty k--s," an ethnic slur for Jews, painted below.

"This is terrible," Gov. Doug Ducey said on the incident. The governor tweeted that antisemitism "has NO place in Arizona and this behavior cannot be tolerated. We are ensuring the authorities are aware of this hateful act. Those responsible must be held accountable. Arizona stands with those of the Jewish faith."

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Bigelman said he was "surprised, and thrilled" that people in the community immediately responded to help, including the Tucson Police Department. Bigelman said that his congregation would clean up the synagogue, and they would look to add security, but that such an attack wouldn't keep them from continuing their work.

"The main thing, the import thing, is to encourage all Jews not be afraid, or to show their faith," he said. "Come more for services, come more for education." 

Recent incidents

Just three weeks ago, someone threw a rock through a glass door at Tucson's Congregation Chaverim near Speedway and North Wilmot Road. Hernandez, a member of that congregation, tweeted about that incident as well. 

"I'm a complete mess in tears as I write this," wrote Hernandez . "I just got off the phone with my Rabbi our synagogue was vandalized someone through a rock at our glass door. This was NOT and accident! I feel numb. This is in #tucson Send prayers our way. It's just the beginning." 

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords also wrote about the incident two weeks ago, writing that it was "heartbreaking to see."

"Yesterday, my synagogue in Tucson was vandalized," she wrote. "It's heartbreaking to see such a disgusting act in a place where so many are meant to feel safest. Despite these actions, we will not be shaken. Hate has no place in Arizona."

Magos said that police did not believe the incidents were connected, and that the previous incident at Chaverim was being looked at as a vandalism case.

In February 2017, the Jewish Community Center in Tucson was one of dozens of Jewish institutions that received threatening phone calls, ultimately linked to two men: one a Jewish teenager living in Israel, and a disgraced reporter, who attempted to frame his girlfriend for the threats. 

On Feb. 27, 2017, the Tucson JCC received a phone call that a device was in the parking lot, requiring a lockdown of the facility. Dozens of people in the facility were sheltered in place while Tucson police officers searched the facility. A similar threat was made in Arizona against the Valley of the Sun JCC in Scottsdale. 

Less than two weeks later, on March 10, the Tucson JCC received another threat, requiring community center members to again shelter in place for 90 minutes while police searched the facility. 

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Chabad on River

An image of the graffiti discovered at the Chabad on River in Midtown Tucson. TucsonSentinel.com blurred the misspelled 'dirty k--s' slur spray-painted on the door.