Jewish Journal

Challenging Hate

Teens arrested in connection with West Valley Hebrew Academy vandalism.

by Yaakov Arnold

Posted on Sep. 28, 2000 at 8:00 pm

Vandals defaced siddurim with swastikas.

Vandals defaced siddurim with swastikas.

Two teenage boys were arrested Sun., Sept. 24, in connection with the ransacking of classrooms and painting of swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of the West Valley Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills.

Police officers, responding to a call from a neighbor who apparently heard glass breaking, found the two running from a classroom. They were charged with burglary, vandalism and hate crimes.

"I feel saddened, shocked, frustrated and upset," says Rabbi Zvi Block, principal of West Valley Hebrew Academy, which offers schooling from kindergarten to eighth grade.

"The school children feel violated," the rabbi continued. "To have a swastika painted on your siddur [prayer book], it caused some children to cry."

The two boys, ages 14 and 15, are accused of breaking into and ransacking 14 classrooms. Police found several windows broken and computers spray painted. "Kill Jews" was also found painted on part of the school. The amount of damage is estimated at $75,000-$80,000, according to Rabbi Block.

The vandalism of the school comes one year after a white supremacist attacked the North Valley Jewish Community Center, wounding students and teachers at the center and killing a postal worker nearby.Neither juvenile is a known member of a white supremacist group. The two were living in a nearby "Sober Living House," a home for wayward youth, according to Officer Jason Lee.

"I think this shows that the community is not immune to anti-Semitism," says Aaron Levinson, director of the Valley office for the Anti-Defamation League.

In the aftermath of the attack, neighbors gathered to help prepare the school for the next day's classes."We would have never been able to open the school without them," says Block.

"There is a groundswell of support," continues the rabbi, who adds that local businesses have offered to help in the repair of the building and the computers. The school has also received $5,000 from an anonymous donor.

Ninety-eight percent of the school's 200 students attended classes on Monday, according to Block. "I believe it is a testament to the courage our parents have."

"I spoke with the students. I told the kids there is a lot more good in the world then evil," says the rabbi.During a school assembly, Block told the students, "How do you fight back? By attending classes and learning Torah better and being more Jewish. They wanted to disrupt class, to close the school. We beat them."

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