By Diana Hefley and Jackson Holtz, Herald Writers
MILL CREEK — The Mill Creek teen has never felt unwelcome in her neighborhood because of her religion.
That changed with a few ugly words and backward swastikas scribbled on two of the family’s trucks.
“I think this is a hate crime,” said the girl, Mira, on Thursday. The family asked that their last name not be printed out of concern for their safety. “That sign meant to be hurtful because of what it means. In this day and age this shouldn’t be happening.”
Her mother, Anna, immigrated from the Soviet Union to avoid persecution for her faith. The hateful swastikas, symbols of anti-Semitism, are unwanted reminders. “I didn’t come to this country 27 years ago to have deja vu,” she said. “I don’t think it should be tolerated. It’s unacceptable in any community.”
Mill Creek police are investigating the vandalism. It is too early to call it a hate crime, until the ideas behind the act are determined, police spokesman Steve Winters said.
“We don’t know the motivation behind it. It certainly could evolve into that depending on what the investigation turns up,” he said. “We certainly don’t condone it and we’ll do what we can to get to the bottom of the issues.”
Police have increased patrols in the area. They also want to talk to anyone who may have any information about the vandalism.
The first incident happened Saturday night or Sunday morning. Someone wrote “I eat Jews” and drew a large backwards swastika on the hood of the family’s work truck parked in the driveway. There were also crude drawings of the male and female anatomy. The family called the police.
“The officer was really upset about the situation. He told us he thought it was teenager vandalism more than a hate crime,” Anna said.
She, her husband and daughter spent three hours scrubbing the truck. The drawings are still somewhat visible.
The family thought it was a distasteful juvenile prank. Anna called the FBI anyway. She wanted someone to know that she was hurt. She didn’t want it to go unnoticed by authorities who investigate hate crimes, she said.
It didn’t stop.
Thursday morning her mother called her at work. Someone had scribbled 11 backward swastikas on Mira’s truck. They were crudely scrawled on the windows and doors. The family believes it happened sometime between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. They don’t understand why.
“I felt like we were targeted because we’re Jewish,” Anna said. “It’s important to treat it as a hate crime and for the community to be aware this is happening in our own back yard.”
The crime happened as Jews around the world are preparing for Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, which begins today at sundown. The holiday is one of the most important of the year and traditionally Jews fast throughout the day.
Crimes like these can have ripple effects across the broader community, said Richard Fruchter, president and CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
“They feel like they’re not just crimes against Jews but crimes against our pluralistic society,” he said.
In July 2006, a gunman opened fire in the federation’s downtown Seattle offices. Naveed Haq, 31, is charged in King County with aggravated first-degree murder in the death of Pamela Waechter, 58, and with five counts of attempted first-degree murder. He said he was a Muslim angry about the war in Iraq and U.S. support of Israel.
“Every Jew feels a connection and is somehow responsible for each other,” Fruchter said. “Even though this is an isolated incident it will have a ripple effect. The community takes this very seriously and people don’t want to tolerate it.”
Police were doing the right thing to investigate whether the incident may be motivated by hate, said Michelle Deutchman, Western states counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.
“The people committing this kind of incident are trying to send a message and it’s important that police send a counter message that this kind of behavior isn’t going to be tolerated in this community,” Deutchman said. “We’re glad to hear that law enforcement is doing an investigation and hope that they’re taking the allegations seriously.”
Police say they have no other reports of similar vandalism in the neighborhood.
“Any hate crime against any person is absolutely reprehensible,” said Rabbi Yossi Mandel of Everett.
These types of crimes should never be perpetrated, he said.
Jewish people, in particular, have been persecuted for centuries, Mandel said.
During the second world war, millions of Jews died in German concentration camps.
“We’re still inheriting the hatred from the Nazis,” Mandel said. “It’s something all of us should rise against.”
Treating other people with love and respect is the best antidote to hate, the rabbi said.
“For each individual person every act of goodness and kindness drives away a little more hate from the world,” he said.