BEVERLY HILLS (CNS) - A vandal broke in early today to a Beverly Hills synagogue founded by Iranian immigrants and caused significant damage to some items inside, authorities said.
The break-in occurred about 2 a.m. at the Nessah Synagogue at 142 South Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills Police Department Lt. Elisabeth Albanese said.
Investigators believe a lone suspect committed a series of minor vandalisms as he traversed through the Rexford/Elm alley south of Wilshire Boulevard during the early morning hours, then crossed Rexford Drive and forced entry into the synagogue, Albanese said.
“The suspect then moved throughout the synagogue, heavily ransacking the interior,” she said. “The suspect disrupted the furnishings, and contents of the synagogue by overturning furniture and distributing brochures and materials throughout the interior.
“The suspect damaged several Jewish relics, but fortunately the synagogue's main scrolls survived unscathed. The disruption was primarily to the synagogue's interior contents, and there is very limited structural damage.”
It did not appear that any property was stolen during the crime and no one else was inside, so there were no injuries, Albanese said.
“Although police are investigating the crime as a hate crime, the suspect left no markings or other overt signs of anti-Semitism,” she said.
Surveillance video revealed that the suspect was white, 20-25 years old, with short dark curly hair, a thin build, possibly wearing prescription glasses, shorts, low-top shoes (possibly Pumas), and that he carried a backpack and pulled a rolling suitcase, Albanese said.
In one surveillance photo released by police, the suspect appeared to be smiling as he looked into the camera.
“The synagogue plans to initiate clean-up efforts immediately and re- open the synagogue tomorrow,” she said.
The investigation continued.
“This cowardly attack hits at the heart of who we are as a community,” Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch said. “It is not just an attack on the Jewish community of Beverly Hills -- it's an attack on all of us. The entire city stands in solidarity behind Nessah, its members and congregants.
“We are committed to catching the criminal who desecrated a holy place on Shabbat of all days and bringing him to justice. We are equally committed that our city will continue to be a welcoming place for Jews and for members of all religions and groups.”
Mirisch later wrote on Facebook, “We will catch the scumbag who did this.”
Congregation members reacted on social media. Leeor Ely posted on Facebook: “I am BEYOND outraged and sick to my stomach right now. My local synagogue, the synagogue I was raised in where I celebrated all of the biggest moments in my life, the synagogue my late grandfather helped create, Nessah Synagogue, was the victim of a disgusting hate crime and vandalized last night.”.
According to its website, Nessah Synagogue was founded in 1980 by Rabbi David Shofet “and the Iranian Jews of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills,” and “upholds the traditions and customs of Iranian Jews according to Orthodox, Sephardic Halacha.”
The congregation moved to its current location in 2002 at the site of what had been a Christian Science church, which moved to a newly built building across the street.
Shofet remains the congregation's chief rabbi.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles' first elected Jewish mayor, tweeted that he was “shocked and outraged by the vandalism at Nessah Synagogue.”
“We will stand together and speak out strongly against any act of hate and intolerance in our community,” Garcetti tweeted. “We're keeping our friends and neighbors in our thoughts as police investigate.”
The Israeli-American Civic Action Network called on local leaders, elected officials, law enforcement and members of the Persian Jewish, Israeli- American, Russian Jewish and American Jewish communities to stand together to fight what it called a rising tide of anti-Semitism.
“Enough is enough, from the East Coast to the West Coast, Jewish communities are under attack,” said Vered Nisim, California chairwoman of the network, which describes itself as a nonprofit organization “dedicated to empowering Israeli-Americans to create change for a better America, a more secure Israel and a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.”
“Just a few days ago, Jews were killed in Jersey City and now today, this vandalism. How many Jews have to die and how many synagogues have to be destroyed before serious action is taken?”
Photo: Beverly Hills Police Department