Defacing of Synagogue : Jewish Leaders Satisfied With Youth's Sentence

Times Staff Writer

Jewish community leaders said Wednesday that they are satisfied with the sentencing of two San Diego teen-agers for vandalizing a San Carlos synagogue in what has been described as the worst crime against the local Jewish community in a decade.

Morris Casuto, director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, said the sentencing of a 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl Tuesday to pay $135 each in restitution, serve 100 hours of community service and watch movies about the Holocaust "seemed appropriate," considering the age of the juveniles and the fact that they are first-time offenders.

Superior Court Judge Lawrence Kapiloff "is providing these youngsters an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, and, if they do, the sentencing will have made sense," Casuto said. "If they become repeat offenders, it is highly unlikely the court would look on them with the same leniency."

The two teen-agers and four friends drank a couple of cases of beer in the garage of a San Carlos home, drove along Cowles Mountain Boulevard on Nov. 13 and spray-painted anti-Semitic messages and swastikas on the Tifereth Israel Synagogue and two nearby homes. The graffiti covered the outside of the synagogue, Rabbi Aaron S. Gold said.

Casuto said that, in the 10 years he has been in San Diego, he has "not seen a Jewish institution so vandalized."

Learning From Past

A spokeswoman for the Jewish Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County said it is "important that the courts have responded in such a way as to teach these and all individuals the damage that is done from such acts of violence. Anti-Semitism and racism will not be tolerated in San Diego and throughout America. It is essential that we learn from our past, otherwise it will be repeated."

A 16-year-old Los Angeles boy, who was convicted in the vandalism and linked to the white supremacist Skinhead movement, was ordered in December to perform 200 hours of community service and pay about $135 to remove the graffiti, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Carlos Armour, who prosecuted the case. Three more teen-agers--two girls and a boy, all 16--are expected to be tried in the next few weeks.

Most of the teen-agers were not linked to organizations in the Skinhead movement, but police have said that all conformed to the Skinhead "look," which includes shaved heads or close-cropped hair, tattoos and leather.

Armour said he believes the 17-year-old boy sentenced Tuesday and the 16-year-old sentenced in December should have been ordered to serve some time in Juvenile Hall. "It would have driven home a little more, just to show, to let them know, their freedom can be curtailed . . . that there is something they can lose."

The 17-year-old boy was ordered to perform his community service hours at the Jewish Community Centers. The girl can serve her community service wherever she chooses.

Hopes for Mandatory Counseling

Rabbi Gold said he would like to see the youths receive mandatory counseling. "I would have hoped that part of their rehabilitation, so to speak, would be more than just watching a Holocaust movie. Even through counseling, it's hard to eradicate bigotry and hate when they are taught it as a youngster, but long-term counseling, like 20 to 30 sessions, and a report on their progress" would help, he said.

The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors anti-Semitic activity, said hate crimes such as the defacing of the Tifereth Israel Synagogue have increased dramatically in the last five years.

"In San Diego, we have seen a very substantial increase, the difference between 11 in 1987 and 33 in 1988, so statistically we're looking at a 300% increase," Casuto said. "While these numbers are obviously cause for concern, it is important that we place their validity in some sort of perspective," he said, adding that schools, police and other community members are dealing with the issue and trying to send a message that such hate crimes are not tolerated in San Diego.

"But churches have also been vandalized, members of the Catholic community have been harassed, blacks, Hispanics and Asians have been harassed and beaten. . . . It is a community problem, not a Jewish issue," Casuto said.

Education an Important Part

Armour said education is an important part of the sentencing because most of the youths involved in the Tifereth Israel synagogue incident "aren't the kinds of people that you see on TV."

"Involvement in these groups goes all the way from the hard-core to the 'wanna-bees' on the periphery, who subscribe to some of the (white-supremacist) views out of ignorance as opposed to hatred, and they can still be worked with," he said.

The three remaining teen-agers will probably face similar penalties, Armour said, and, if any of the six violate their probation, they will face up to three years in Juvenile Hall or a Youth Authority camp.

Adults convicted of defacing, damaging or vandalizing a place of worship with the intent to dissuade people from worshiping face a mandatory state prison term of three years.

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