Activist's Office Defaced on Day of Synagogue Cleanup : Christian Volunteers Pitch In to Aid Jews

Times Staff Writer

Anti-Semitism, Christian activist Thomas (Ed) Steele says, isn't so much a Jewish problem as it is a Christian one.

Steele, an ordained Baptist minister who gave up the pulpit to run an advertising agency in Orange, learned how true that was when he found his own offices defaced with swastikas Saturday morning.

The 61-year-old Steele is a leader of Concerned Christians Against Anti-Semitism, a newly formed group that was planning to spend last Saturday morning helping to repair Temple Beth Tikvah of north Orange County. The Fullerton synagogue has been the target of occasional vandalism, including a series of fires set earlier this month.

After those fires on Jan. 7 and 8, Steele and the Rev. Frank Eiklor, a religious broadcaster who has preached against anti-Semitism, announced the cleanup effort. The cleanup went on as planned, with as many as 100 Christian volunteers taking part.

But hate groups, Steele believes, wanted to express their displeasure. Early Saturday morning he found an anti-Semitic circular slipped under the door of his Santa Ana home. And when he went to his office, he discovered stickers bearing swastikas and an epithet naming an anti-Semitic group defacing his office in the 800 block of North Batavia Street in Orange.

"They're saying, 'we know who you are, back off,' " Steele said. "I personally believe it's an effort to intimidate us from supporting the Jewish community," he added.

But he pledged to continue his work against anti-Semitism by speaking out and helping Jewish institutions that are victimized by vandals. Steele's group claims a membership of 100.

Orange police said they had no suspects in the vandalism, but that their investigation was continuing. Police Sgt. Ed Falkenstien said the attack was Orange's first incidence of anti-Semitic vandalism "in several years."

The Saturday cleanup was part of a vocal campaign against anti-Semitism that Eiklor started when he moved to Orange County from Salem, Mass., late last year.

On Dec. 10, Eiklor held a press conference to announce the formation of the Christian Task Force Against Anti-Semitism. Eiklor said that more than 100 Evangelical ministers had signed his Covenant of Care and Brotherhood, in which churches say they will consider attacks on Jewish institutions as attacks against the church.

The one rabbi who attended Eiklor's press conference, Haim Asa of Temple Beth Tikvah, said he was heartened by the work of Eiklor's groups.

The cleanup at the temple demonstrated "the power of interfaith love and concern," the rabbi said.

"All I can say is, whatever evil was intended 10 days ago, a great good has come out of it," Asa declared.

Saturday was convenient for the Christians but not for the Jews, who are forbidden to work on their sabbath. So temple members provided refreshments for the volunteers, and Asa taught them the weekly Torah portion, which happened to deal with God's commission to Moses, Exodus 6:2-9:35.

The Torah is the Hebrew term for the first five books of the Bible.

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