Vandalism at old BSKI building probably not a hate crime

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Adolescent troublemaking, not bigotry, has been blamed for vandalism last month at the old Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue, where swastikas were spray-painted inside the building.

“I have some confidence that it is not anti-Semitism or hate-based,” said Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League for Missouri and Southern Illinois.

The BSKI building at 1107 Linden Avenue in Richmond Heights has been little used  since a 2012 merger that unified the congregation with Shaare Zedek to form Kol Rinah. Regular services for the new Conservative shul are held at the former Shaare Zedek building. 

Mitchell Shenker, president of Kol Rinah, said members do stop by the old synagogue from time to time for a special event or to check on the building and its contents. Members were in the building conducting an inventory when the vandals struck Feb. 17, and they called police. Three teenage suspects were quickly apprehended.


Police have not named the suspects, but Richmond Heights Detective Sgt. Gerry Rohr said they were charged with trespassing and property damage.

“We were able to make a traffic stop and get these three people, and they were identified by the witness,” he said.

Rohr said the case could be moved to state court from municipal court if the amount of damage as high enough. Shenker declined to estimate a dollar figure on the damage.

Shenker said he believed they consisted of a 17-year-old and two 14-year-olds. Rohr said the two younger teens were diverted to the juvenile court system. 

Shenker said he also doesn’t believe that racial or religious animus was at play in the vandalism.

“This is not considered a hate crime, because there is no evidence that it is,” he said. “We think it is a bunch of stupid kids doing a stupid thing.”

The graffiti varied quite a bit and contained a generally “inconsistent message,” Shenker said, adding that the vandals “knocked over a few things and broke a couple of windows.”

Aroesty, a member of Kol Rinah, said it is important that the incident not be made more than it is.

“I don’t want to dilute people’s understanding or their response when real trouble does occur,” she said.

Rohr agreed that the incident did not appear to be based on race or religion. He said this wasn’t the first time police had been called to the old synagogue to investigate graffiti, damage or break-ins in which copper pipe and wiring were stolen.

“What I see as a community issue right now with that structure is that it’s vacant (and) some kids have identified it as a place to hang out, drink and do some stupid things,” Rohr said. “I’d like to get to the bottom of that.”

Shenker said the Linden Avenue building is for sale. Meanwhile, the congregation resides on Hanley Road, although Shenker said the congregation is planning to move in the future and continuing to search for new location options.