NEW YORK - Rabbi Asher Altshul, of Congregation Beth Shalom of Kings Bay, was walking into his synagogue for morning services around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, as he does every day, when he made a disturbing discovery.
In big white letters, the message was clear as day. Someone spray-painted the word "Hitler" near the entrance of the decades-old institution.
"Obviously, I was kind of in shock. It's a very safe neighborhood. Nothing like that happened here before. And I spoke to congregants of the center that were here 40 years, 50 years, never such a thing happened before," Altshul told CBS2's Hannah Kliger.
He called the police and Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, whose family was affected by the Holocaust.
"We escaped all of that. We escaped universities were spray-painted, people were beaten just for being Jewish, and we ran away from that to come to a place of freedom and tolerance, and to see this is absolutely horrifying," Vernikov said.
The rabbi says there are many Holocaust survivors and their families who live in the neighborhood and attend the synagogue on a regular basis.
Flatbush Shomrim, a volunteer civilian patrol group, also came early Wednesday morning. Soon after, volunteers began to clean up the display of hate. Steven Weill, coordinator for the group, was among them.
"I believe it's all tied together to the lack of accountability that criminals face today," he said. "I've never been, I would say, more scared or more ashamed to be a New Yorker right now."
Detectives from the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force were also there Wednesday afternoon, searching for evidence. One surveillance camera on the building points toward the entrance, away from the spot where the vandalism was found. The NYPD says it happened around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Alexander Rosemberg, Deputy Regional Director for New York and New Jersey at the Anti-Defamation League, says they've seen an uptick in acts of hate towards Jewish communal institutions.
"We see this as a trend that is continuing. Synagogues, JCCs, cemeteries, that kind of an institution has always been a big target for people looking to do harm," Rosemberg said.
With the message gone, Rabbi Altshul says he told his congregation not to live in fear.
"The best response possible -- move on, live your life, be a proud Jew, be proud of who you are," he said.
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