Chicago police say hate crime charges could be pending after FREE Synagogue, Jewish school in Rogers Park vandalized

CHICAGO (WLS) — Chicago police said charges could be pending against a person of interest in a case involving vandalism on the Far North Side at at least six locations, including a synagogue and a Jewish school.

Investigators said at around 4:40 pm Sunday, someone spray-painted graffiti on the FREE Synagogue in the 2900-block of West Devon Avenue.

Police remained on scene for some time after members of the synagogue discovered yellow swastikas painted on the outside wall.

“So we were inside packing meals as we do every week, hundreds of meals for families in need, for Holocaust survivors and Russian seniors, and, as we come outside finishing that, we see a swastika on our building,” said Rabbi Levi Notik of Synagogue FREE, which stands for “Friends of Refugees from Eastern Europe.”

As they tried to make sense of the hateful vandalism, a congregant walked in shaken, saying he had been assaulted by a man as he was heading into Jewish services.

“He came in after the fact. He was very shaken. Apparently somebody jumped him and yelled racial slurs,” Rabbi Notik said. “Law enforcement has been amazing. We seriously thank God his injuries are very minor. And thank God no one was hurt.”

Police said the same person then walked a block and spray-painted hate symbols on a cargo container at a Jewish high school. Police were at the scene of another Jewish school in the same area later.

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There were six incidents in the area over the weekend. Police said they are questioning a person of interest, but they have not said if all of the incidents, just blocks apart in Rogers Park, are linked. CPD appear confident that this person is responsible for some, if not all, of the weekend incidents.

But police said charges may take a while longer to be filed, both because the amount of evidence detectives are still going through and because of the nature of charging a hate crime.

Alderman Debra Silverstein of the 50th Ward has been reaching out to local businesses to make sure they’re on alert.

“Hate has no place in in our neighborhood, and we will not tolerate it,” Silverstein said. “The community is very upset, very concerned. We’re looking to the police.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot met with a group of Rogers Park rabbis and other Jewish leaders Monday night, addressing their concerns about the incidents.

“Doing nothing is not an option. Based upon, what we have known so far, this individual has caused a lot of harm,” Lightfoot said.

On Saturday, Kol Tuv Kosher Foods had a window smashed, and right next door the front door of Tel-Aviv Kosher Bakery was shattered. Owner Walter Richtman was furious.

“The person, whoever did it, has to understand we are all the same people; we are all God’s people,” he said. “We need to be treated equally.”

All of the incidents happened around or near the 2900-block of West Devon Avenue, a neighborhood full of Jewish establishments, and they took place just days after Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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“This is the American Jewish experience these days,” said David Goldenberg of the Anti-Defamation League. “I can’t imagine a time when I’m going to walk into a synagogue again and not pass an armed security guard for services.”

According to the ADL, anti-Semitic incidents increased by 84% in the Midwest between 2016 and 2020.

“The way that will overcome this hate, the way that we will get through this darkness is through goodness,” Rabbi Notik said. “Through positivity and kindness — light is the answer.”

Concerns about the series of incidents runs high, especially in the wake of the recent hostage situation in Texas.

“We’re not going to be afraid,” Richtman said. We’re not going to run. We’re gonna stand. Things are gonna keep going. We’re gonna be more vigilant. We will watch out to see if something’s happening, but we’re not going to change what we’ re doing.”

The rabbi with FREE synagogue said there are cameras all over the building, but they didn’t catch the crimes taking place.

Meanwhile, Alderman Silverstein said police are looking for any video evidence from businesses in the area.


I am deeply upset to learn that a local synagogue, a school, and business were vandalized over the weekend-some with symbols of hate and anti-Semitism. These crimes are undoubtedly a part of the troubling rise in anti-Semitism that we’ve seen both in our city and across the country. Make no mistake: this attack, as well as the deep hatred and bigotry that drives other anti-Semitic acts like it, is an attack on our city’s Jewish community and social fabric. Those responsible must be held accountable. An arrest has been made and the police are working diligently to gather evidence to support charges. As Chicagoans and as Americans, it is our responsibility to call hate speech and acts out and protect our Jewish brothers and sisters who endure this hatred after year. Without our determined and collective action, anti-Semitism will continue to thrive. That’s why we must renew our commitment to building a community built with love and purpose and excise the bigots that cause and benefit from hate.

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