Antisemitic graffiti was found on a wall outside of Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill Thursday morning, just one day before Pittsburghers would be commemorating five years since the antisemitic massacre at the Tree of Life building.
The defaced wall read: “Free Palestine from PGH to Gaza.”
Shawn Brokos, director of community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, received reports of the graffiti early Thursday morning.
“We immediately notified the school administrators as well as local police,” Brokos said. Security personnel at other nearby Jewish institutions were also alerted.
“Fortunately, we received a prompt response from Allderdice,” Brokos said, and by 10 a.m. Thursday morning, the graffiti was removed.
Police are investigating the matter.
Allderdice’s Principal James McCoy condemned the vandalism in a letter to parents.
“This morning, we discovered an offensive message in graffiti on the premises,” he wrote. “The message contained hurtful and divisive language that goes against the principles of respect, inclusivity, and kindness that we hold dear.
“We want to emphasize that we do not tolerate such behavior within our Pittsburgh Allderdice school community,” McCoy continued. “We take this matter very seriously, and we are working closely with law enforcement to ensure that appropriate action is taken.”
Several yard signs supporting Israel, displayed on private property in Squirrel Hill, also were found defaced Thursday morning. Those incidents were reported to law enforcement as well, Brokos said.
She believes that the timing of the vandalism “was very strategic because of tomorrow being the five-year commemoration,” she said Thursday. “I think that the timing was very strategic, as were the locations.”
Federation officials noted in a prepared statement that “these incidents come on the heels of a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents following the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel that killed more than 1400. The location and nature of the vandalism suggests that the criminals were targeting Jewish areas, with the goal of blaming Jews for the actions of a foreign government — a typical antisemitic trope.
“For a Jewish community still healing from the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history in 2018 and now retraumatized by the worst single act of terrorism against Jews since the Holocaust, these acts of vandalism are particularly despicable,” the statement continued. “Vandalism targeting Jews is criminal hate speech, pure and simple. We condemn hate speech of any form, which has no place anywhere in Pittsburgh.”
The Anti-Defamation League denounced the vandalism while noting it was part of a “troubling trend we’re seeing around the country.”
“Antisemitic incidents, including rhetoric that delegitimizes Israel’s right to exist, has gone up dramatically in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel by Hamas,” said Kelly Fishman, ADL regional director. “That community members might feel attacked and threatened for standing with Israel as it defends itself is all the more disturbing as we mark the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue.”
Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey both took to social media to condemn the vandalism and stress support for Jewish constituents.
In response to the graffiti at Allderdice, Fetterman posted a photo on X (formerly Twitter) showing an American flag and a wall plastered with posters of those who were kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7, and wrote: “This is reprehensible. The only thing that belongs on a wall right now is this.”
This is reprehensible.
— Senator John Fetterman (@SenFettermanPA) October 26, 2023
“I just got off the phone with Dr. McCoy of Allderdice High School and Rabbi Myers from the Tree of Life to check in an offer my support,” Casey posted. “This is a painful week for the Squirrel Hill neighborhood and the entire Jewish community in Pittsburgh. I stand with them, now and always.”
Chabad of Greenfield’s Rabbi Yitzi Goldwasser found another way to respond to the vandalism after being contacted by several worried parents of teens at Allderdice.
“The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught us that we don’t fight darkness — we just add light and the darkness goes away,” Goldwasser said. “I reached out to Judah Cowen to order some pizza from Elegant Edge (Catering Company). He right away said he would sponsor the entire order. We came to Allderdice by dismissal to spread light. We were there with tefillin, a charity box and Shabbat candles, offering everyone to do a mitzvah for Israel.”
Goldwasser told the students that “never has it been the right choice to hide our Jewish identity or shy away,” he said. “It never turned out well. Rather, we have to stand strong and proud as the Jewish nation. Keep on doing good, spread goodness and kindness in the world, and it will push away the darkness.”
“Light will win over darkness, good will win over evil, every single time,” the rabbi said.
Brokos commended the community for reporting the vandalism and stressed the importance of continuing to do so as situations arise. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.