Jewish school hit by vandals Swastikas, epithets spray-painted on Pikesville academy

October 31, 1997|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Students at a Jewish school in Pikesville and the parents who took them to school yesterday had a nasty surprise in store: During the night, vandals had spray-painted swastikas, epithets, profanity and obscene drawings at the school.

Sidewalks, pavement, signs, two sides of a building and the playground swing set at the Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim-Talmudical Academy of Baltimore were defaced with words and symbols written in red, green and black spray paint.

Baltimore County police are investigating it as a "bias incident" -- the term police prefer to "hate crime," said spokesman Bill Toohey. They knew of no suspects, he said.

Officials said it was the first such occurrence at the 80-year-old nonprofit school, which offers secular and religious instruction to 600 boys from preschool through 12th grade.

"We came this morning -- we have services at quarter to 8 -- and on the sidewalk, on the school building, there's graffiti, anti-Semitic symbols and swastikas," said Rabbi Yehuda Lefkovitz, the school's executive vice president. "I've been here 10 years, and we have not had a problem like this before. We would tend to believe this is an isolated incident, perhaps related to the Halloween season."

Lefkovitz said there had been no threats or indications of trouble at the school before the graffiti was found.

Toohey, the police spokesman, said instances of such vandalism are unusual in that part of the county. Police statistics show that for the first nine months of this year, 90 "bias incidents" were verified by police.

Seventy-four of those were classified as criminal, he said -- a category that includes property destruction such as that at the Talmudic Academy, as well as threatening phone calls or letters.

Lefkovitz said he and other adults who work at the school didn't immediately notice the damage because they drove past the area where it occurred, rather than walked past it.

But the students who were arriving -- and their parents -- noticed it right away, he said, because it is in the drop-off area for students.

"The general reaction is, it's not something they've experienced before," Lefkovitz said. "The children are certainly aware of anti-Semitic things because of their studies."

He said the school principal spoke to a gathering of all students, telling them that what they saw appeared to be an isolated incident.

"We do not feel it's indicative of a problem within the neighborhood," he said.

The school, founded in 1917 as the first Jewish all-day school outside of New York City, has been at its present location on Old Court Road since 1968, he said. Old Court Road winds through several residential areas with neatly tended one- and two-story homes along the wide, tree-lined street.

Lefkovitz said the incident caused some concern among parents, and several called to see if they could help. The school plans to add security patrols at night to prevent a further occurrence, he said.

By midmorning yesterday, school officials had painted over several of the swastikas on the pavement, and large green sheets of paper had been taped on the building to obscure the profanities and epithets.

As a group of elementary students played outside during a recess, one youngster walked over to the paper and pressed down the tape where it had pulled loose in the wind.

"We're not hiding it from them -- we want them to know what it means. This whole school is built on building moral values and community-minded individuals," Lefkovitz said as he looked at the damage.

"But we want them to feel it's isolated. It's probably juveniles who are celebrating the Halloween holiday in a terrible way. We ** hope that's all it is."

Pub Date: 10/31/97

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