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‘United Against Hate’

Sacramento rallies in support of three firebombed synagogues

by Tom Tugend

June 24, 1999 | 8:00 pm

Under a giant banner that read "Sacramento United Against Hate," some 4,500 citizens of all faiths and colors dedicated themselves to the fight against bigotry as their answer to coordinated arson attacks on three local synagogues.

More than 2,500 people crammed into the Community Center Theater Monday night, and 2,000 more listened in an adjacent auditorium, during a 2 1/2-hour rally that participants described as "electric" and "the most emotional experience of my life."

The audience rose to its feet as California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante declared, "Tonight all of us belong to the three synagogues," and as Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna said, "When I hear of synagogues burning, then I am a Jew."

There were more standing ovations as the representative of an African-American housing association presented the first $10,000 check for a proposed municipal museum of tolerance, and as Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, stated that, in future years, Sacramento would be held up as a model of how a community must respond to bigotry.

Not far from the emotion-filled scene, more than 100 federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI were painstakingly combing the three synagogue sites for evidence to link the hate crimes to their perpetrators.

Last Friday's pre-dawn attacks targeted Congregation B'nai Israel and Congregation Beth Shalom, both Reform temples, and the Kenesset Israel Torah Center, an Orthodox synagogue. Total damage was estimated at close to $1 million.

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