The Irvine City Council unanimously decided to approve Mayor Donald Wagner’s (right) proposal and double the reward for information relating to a recent anti-Semitic hate crime. Council member Melissa Fox (left) said that she first received anti-Semitic death threats when she was 15 while volunteering for Chabad and council member Jeffrey Lalloway (middle) said that news of hate crimes, both local and national, make him fear for his daughters’ futures. Credit: KALI HOFFMAN, Voice of OC Youth Media

(Editors Note: Kali Hoffman is a student journalist at Chapman University participating in the Voice of OC Youth Media program.)

Irvine City Council members voted unanimously on Tuesday night to join Anti-Defamation League (ADL) efforts establishing a reward for information in a recent hate crime incident against Congregation Beth Jacob, an Irvine synagogue, just four days after 11 worshippers were killed inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania last month.

Council members agreed to match the ADL $5,000 reward, bringing the total up to $10,000.

“If you do something to the least of us, you do it to all of us, and we’re coming after you,” said Mayor Donald Wagner.

The city’s $5,000 contribution will come out of the City Council community sponsorship fund.    Wagner hopes that doubling the reward will promote public awareness of the search and generate more leads in the investigation.

A person wearing a hoodie, sunglasses and a surgical face mask jumped the fence at the Michelson Drive pedestrian entrance to the synagogue at 1:18 AM on Oct. 31, according to a surveillance video. After spray painting the wall, the individual fled the scene on a bicycle that was allegedly stolen. The Irvine Police Department (IPD) conducted a full sweep of the area, but found no evidence besides the graffiti.

The IPD has no leads as of Nov. 13, according to Chief of Public Safety Mike Hamel. City police officers have increased patrols near local synagogues, the Merage Jewish Community Center and the Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School and are “keeping (their) ears close to the ground” by monitoring public social media accounts for potential leads, Hamel said.

“On behalf of the entire department, we condemn this hateful act,” Hamel said.

These was a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes nationwide and a 27 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in California in 2017, according to the ADL. 

Vandalism accounted for 34 percent of hate crimes reported in Orange County last year, making it the most commonly reported hate crime in 2017, according to the Orange County Human Relations Commission. Of these vandalism-related crimes, 61 percent involved graffiti prominently displaying a swastika.

“The hope is that the whole community comes together to say that there is no room for hate in our community,” said Peter Levi, regional director of the ADL in Orange County and Long Beach. “The reward is just to send a message that we all stand together.”

Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Irvine Police Department.

The vandalism is being investigated as a hate crime.

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