Hours before hundreds of children descended on Summerset at Frick for an evening of trick-or-treating, residents awoke to slashed tires and hateful messages painted on sidewalks, benches, a wall and a gazebo.
Roman Gluzman discovered the vandalism early Tuesday morning when he exited his home, started his car and discovered the tire pressure was zero.
Along with lacerating Gluzman’s tires, vandals etched a profanity onto his vehicle.
“They took a knife and destroyed the right side of my car completely,” he said.
“I realized something was wrong, but I still didn’t see what was going on across the street at the gazebo because it was too dark,” he continued. “When I finally walked up here, I was just shocked.”
One spray-painted message read, “F— ZIONISM.” Others read, “FREE PALESTINE,” “8k dead,” “TAKE YOUR MONEY SOMEWHERE ELSE, and ”I STAND WITH GAZA.” Other messages included “DEATH 2 AMERICA” and a homophobic vulgarity. The symbol for anarchism was spray-painted multiple times in the area.
“It’s terrible. It’s really terrible,” Marie Stapinski, Summerset neighborhood association president, said. “I don’t understand what’s accomplished by that sort of vandalism.”
The association contacted Pittsburgh police, shared photographs of the destruction then alerted the Urban Redevelopment Authority (the property’s owner), according to Stapinski.
“The City of Pittsburgh came out to begin the cleanup because it’s important to have this message removed as quickly as possible, especially considering that tonight is Halloween and this is a big night in our neighborhood,” she said.
While workers spent the morning treating the area with chemicals and sprays, neighbors gathered.
“It’s just an overwhelmingly terrible thing for the community,” Ray Baum, a Summerset resident and member of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, said. “My parents are Holocaust survivors, and I think about this all the time. It digs at you.”
Erica Zimmerman, donning a Star of David necklace, said she never imagined something like this would happen outside her door.
Other Jewish Summerset residents agreed but asked to remain anonymous when speaking with the Chronicle.
“I don’t want to end up becoming more of a target than I feel like we already are given that this is literally across the street from our house,” one person said.
“I am right now reliving my mother’s life, her nightmare of hiding from the Nazis in Paris, France,” another resident said. “It’s so disturbing and it’s so gut-wrenching to see that this is happening again, in our country, in our city, in our community. It’s just horrible and I just want to know when is it ever going to stop? When are they ever going to leave us alone? I’m feeling insecure and not safe in my own neighborhood. That’s how I’m feeling. That I’ve been sent back to 1937 in Germany.”
Summerset resident David Silverman said he was incredulous that the Hamas “atrocities” of Oct. 7 didn’t deter hatred of Jews.
“There’s more antisemitism now, as a result of what you would think would make people sympathize with Israel and the Jewish people,” he said. “There seems to be the opposite effect.”
Antisemitism is increasing
Just five days before the Summerset incidents, yard signs demonstrating support for Israel were vandalized in Squirrel Hill. At Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, “FREE PALESTINE PGH→GAZA” was spray-painted on an outside wall.
“As horrifying as it is — that there’s antisemitic graffiti happening in this community — I’m not surprised,” Laura Cherner, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council, said. “This is what the Jewish community has been saying all along, that anytime there is violence in Israel, there is an increase in antisemitism in the United States.”
Of the 312 antisemitic incidents recorded by the Anti-Defamation League between Oct. 7-23, 190 were “directly linked” to the war in Israel and Gaza. Preliminary data from the New York-based organization suggests that reported incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault increased by 388% over the same period last year.
Steve Irwin, chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s Cleveland region, which includes Pittsburgh, visited Summerset later Tuesday morning.
“What’s clear here today is that anti-Israel activists are taking vandalism to a whole new level,” Irwin said. “By targeting a community that was traumatized by the mass shooting at the Tree of Life building just five years ago, by targeting a community that continues to be traumatized by ongoing hatred and antisemitism, these messages leave people feeling under siege and threatened.”
Rep. Summer Lee weighs in
As city workers continued washing away the spray-painted vulgarities, U.S. Rep. Summer Lee (PA-12) arrived in Summerset.
“I don’t assume to know who did this, or why they did this or what their motive was, but I think that what we can see, what we are seeing, is the reaction to it, how people are perceiving it,”Lee told the Chronicle when asked about messaging directly targeting the Jewish community, such as “F— ZIONISM.”
When asked whether the messages that were spray-painted in Summerset, on yard signs in Squirrel Hill and outside Allderdice were antisemitic, Lee replied, “I don’t know who spray-painted them or why.”
Asked again if the messages were antisemitic, Lee said that “motive matters.”
“I think that motive matters and perception,” she said. “If people are perceiving it that way, then that matters and we need to take that into account — I do. Do I know who spray-painted that? I think that when I saw “Free Palestine,” I think that what they’re saying is that this is unjust; the reaction is happening. I think that they are mourning and grieving and trying to use the only voice that they have to bring attention to the fact that 8,000 innocent Palestinians have been killed. And that balance is growing in the West Bank….And we can also say that our Israeli community is important, that our Jewish community is important, that those lives that we mourn and that we grieve also were important. That the cause of that needs to be eradicated. I believe that we can do — not can — I believe we must do both.”
She acknowledged that “rhetoric online all around is terrible,” and decried the lack of support for Palestinian, Muslim and Arab communities.
“Right now, we have a lot of people who are rightfully calling out antisemitism, who are calling out hateful rhetoric against our Jewish communities but aren’t doing the same for our Muslim Arab and Palestinian communities,” Lee said. “We can and we have to do both.”
She said that her rhetoric has “been consistent.”
“My rhetoric from day one has consistently been to say that we want to protect life, that we want to value life, that we want to hold people who are taking advantage, or harming life, we want to hold them accountable,” she said. “But that we want to fight for the living, while we mourn, when we grieve those who have passed. That’s been my rhetoric from day one.”
Last week, Lee was one of only 10 House members to vote against a resolution condemning the deadly invasion of Israel by Hamas on Oct. 7, which launched Israel’s current war against the terror group in Gaza. She is one of only 17 members of the House supporting a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.
That resolution does not mention Hamas terrorism.
In a prepared statement issued later on Oct. 31, Lee said “the vandalism and antisemitic targeting of a Jewish community member’s property in Frick Park as we commemorate 5 years since the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting is completely unacceptable and wrong. I condemn these actions in the strongest possible terms. I will continue doing everything in my power to fight back against hate and ensure our Jewish community feels safe and protected.”
Language matters, community matters
Antisemitism must be called out unambiguously, regardless of its source, said Cherner, the Federation’s CRC director.
“For those who are hesitant to call this graffiti antisemitic, that perpetuates the harmful narrative that antisemitism can only be from white supremacists,” she said. “The reality is antisemitism can come from all sides of the extremist political spectrum. Obviously, language matters. Impact on communities matter. And for those who would so flippantly put graffiti in a predominantly Jewish area without having ‘intentions’ behind it, it still causes extreme harm to the community. So while intention does matter, I think words also matter, and they’re speaking much louder.”
Shawn Brokos, the Federation’s director of community security, said that despite the antisemitic vandalism, Pittsburgh’s Jewish community is “safe.”
“There are individuals who are looking to exploit the war in Israel and create fear,” she said. “But please know our community is safe. There are no known threats directed at the community, even though events like graffiti and vandalism make it feel that way. Right now, there is tremendous fear and anxiety, which is understandable, but at the end of the day, we have to separate fear from actual real threats.
“I’m not going to discredit the fear — I feel it as well,” Brokos continued. Still, community members should understand that “the root of who is doing this is to create fear, and not to physically harm individuals.
“I’m not asking for that to comfort anybody who has experienced any previous [incidents], but I think it’s important to keep in mind that our security infrastructure works. We have great collaboration with law enforcement and leaders, and we are working hand-in-hand to ensure the community’s safety.”
According to reports, the graffiti was removed. Police are investigating the incident.
Later that day, children arrived for trick-or-treating at Summerset. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.