About a week ago, Michael Jacobs posted a “We Stand With Israel” sign outside his Beechwood Boulevard business, Marvista Design + Build.
Several days later — on the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht — a vandal not only tore down the sign but attempted to smash his storefront windows.
“About 3:50 a.m., somebody came over to the building with a hammer and starts smashing the windows in the front, banging violently against them,” Jacobs said.
Unsuccessful in breaking the window, the vandal left. But a few seconds later she returned.
She tried again to smash the window, then ripped down the sign supporting Israel. Before leaving the scene, she tore down a literature rack in front of the building and smashed the windows of the company truck parked nearby.
Jacobs knows all this because it was captured on his security camera.
“The miracle is that our windows of the building did not break,” he said. “It’s, like, very weird. I mean, she was just violently swinging. A lot of anger.”
The sound from the hammer against the glass was so loud, he said, that neighbors thought it was gunshots and called the police.
Security camera footage shows police cars coming onto the scene about 15 minutes later.
“They actually went around the whole building and checked all the doors,” Jacobs said. “But when I called the police in the morning, the officer that came out really didn’t know any of this. I just had heard that maybe they reported gunshots. He didn’t know anything at the time.”
Jacobs said the police are investigating and he hopes that if the suspect is apprehended, she will be prosecuted for a hate crime.
“I think that we’ve reached a new level here,” he said. “It’s one thing to be defacing public property, spray-painting things, etc. But now you’re going to attack a Jewish business and try to break in the building and destroy? So, to me, this is kind of next level. I want to elevate this so that it gets taken seriously. Everybody’s very unnerved in the community right now.”
Jacobs reported the incident to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. He said he would also reach out to the Anti-Defamation League.
If the suspect is identified and apprehended, she likely will face a charge of criminal mischief, according to Shawn Brokos, the Federation’s director of community security. But Brokos has reported the incident to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office so that they can review it to see if it qualifies as a hate crime.
To prove a federal hate crime, the suspect must be shown to have animus or bias against a victim’s ethnicity or religion.
“The fact that the suspect struck the window, directed at a ‘We stand with Israel’ sign, would be indicative of hate or bias against either Jews or Israelis,” Brokos said.
“What we don’t know is, did that suspect know that it was a Jewish-owned business, which would lend more credence to it being a hate crime. I know it is being investigated and reviewed, but a cursory look, yes, to me, it would certainly fit in with the definition of a federal hate crime. At the very least, criminal mischief.”
Brokos said there has been a significant uptick of concerning incidents in the Pittsburgh area since the Hamas-Israel war broke out after terrorists from Gaza invaded Israel on Oct. 7.
The Federation is receiving an average of two reports of these incidents every day. They range from anti-Israel graffiti to hateful texts and emails to verbal assaults on the street — some coming from students on school buses. When these incidents are reported, research is conducted on the person making these statements or committing these acts.
The incidents are shared with law enforcement.
“The ultimate goal,” Brokos said, “is to determine is this person a potential threat? Or is this person doing it as a scare tactic? It could be one and the same but the biggest goal is to be proactive and to determine if the folks doing this are real credible threats.”
So far, she said, while there has been “threatening activity,” there have been no recent threats directed at specific individuals or organizations.
Brokos said she did not expect to see the type of activity that has been occurring in the last few weeks.
“What we’re seeing now is concerning actions coming from our own neighborhoods, and that’s not something I had anticipated on the afternoon of Oct. 7,” she said. “So, to me, that is something very unsettling.”
She commended police throughout Greater Pittsburgh, including on college campuses, saying they have been “fantastic with supporting our requests for additional patrols or for assistance in various situations. And we are working hand-in-hand as well with the FBI. So I can say definitively we have a tremendous law enforcement response and focus on this right now. And that is absolutely essential. And it’s going to continue to be that way for some time.”
Community members should not hesitate to call 911 if they are threatened or victimized, Brokos stressed.
“We need reports of everything that is considered suspicious because you cannot connect the dots until you collect the dots,” she said. “And there’s a lot of dots out there right now.”
We have an excellent team,” Brokos added. “And it’s not just law enforcement. It’s also our community partners. We met with the mayor last week, and he has promised resources and is trying to aid us as well.”
Jacobs said he also will be contacting Mayor Ed Gainey’s office.
“We’ve reached a new level of antisemitism,” he said. “It’s mind-blowing that it’s happening, literally minutes from Tree of Life. It’s mind-blowing that it happened on the night of Kristallnacht. There has to be a major response to this because if there’s not a major response to this, then it just almost eggs on other people to do it.”
His answer to the hatred? Putting up two signs. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.