The evening before the Anti-Defamation League was set to release its annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents, just such an event was being perpetrated at a local Conservative synagogue.
Arriving for morning minyan, congregants at Congregation Ner Zedek-Ezrath Israel-Beth Uziel in Northeast Philadelphia found a gold, spray-painted swastika on the front of their building, reported office manager Terrie Bass.
The offending insignia measures about 2×2 feet, according to Bass, and can be seen from the street, depending on the angle and the light.
The vandalism was reported to the police, who are treating it as a hate crime.
"A lot of times these things have very little solvability," unless physical evidence can be found or something shows up on a surveillance tape, said Officer Doughton, who would not give her first name. The synagogue has a surveillance camera in the vestibule that catches some outside activity, and congregation officials plan to install exterior cameras by month's end.
This was the first incident of its type at the shul in 30 years, said president Marv Munstein. It was reported to the media and the local branch of the ADL.
Munstein said that the shul plans to remove the marks.
According to ADL's annual report, anti-Semitic occurrences in 2008 declined nationally for the fourth straight year. The audit has separated a total of 1,352 incidents into various categories, depending on the particulars: vandalism, harassment, and assaults against Jewish people, institutions and property. Last year saw a 7 percent decline from the year before, in which 1,460 such incidents were reported.
Here in Pennsylvania
Anti-Semitic activity was essentially unchanged in Pennsylvania: 97 incidents were reported in 2008, compared with 99 in 2007. The state was ranked fifth nationally, accounting for 7 percent overall.
"We're encouraged to see, nationally, that numbers dropped modestly over the past few years, but locally, it's an uneven pattern, so it's hard to draw conclusions," said Barry Morrison, executive director of ADL's Philadelphia office.
Among local occurrences to make the ADL's list were two assaults on Jewish students; the frequent removal of a mezuzah by a maintenance worker at an apartment complex (accompanied by offensive remarks); and the transmission of anti-Semitic text messages to an individual in Philadelphia.
The ADL reported that the local region counted a total of 36 incidents of property damage, 59 episodes of harassment, and two separate physical assaults.
Morrison noted that it's still too early to begin drawing conclusions about local anti-Semitic incidents in 2009, but "my impression is that we don't see any dramatic change in the first few months of this year to warrant a closer look at the data."
The vandalism at Ner Zedek, according to Morrison, "certainly lends credibility to this endeavor of keeping track of these incidents. It's very evident that it's a continuing problem."
He added that acts like these are most often not repeated at the same site, and very often are perpetrated by young people.
The report is available on the Web (www.adl.org).