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Symbol of Hate Hard to Erase : Vandalism: Last remaining members of Hollywood synagogue are used to graffiti, but ugliness of a swastika cannot be ignored.

August 20, 1993|JOHN L. MITCHELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the most part, the graffiti scrawled on the buildings on Virginia Avenue in Hollywood have been tolerated as a neighborhood nuisance that could easily be erased.

But when someone painted a swastika on the wall of Ahavath Israel Synagogue on Wednesday morning, it was seen as an indelible symbol of hate that targeted the handful of congregants in the old building..

Arthur Lowy, who at 56 is one of the youngest members of the synagogue, called the police and then refused to have the swastika painted over until a photographer took pictures.

"I'm from the generation that says 'never again,' " he said angrily. "You have to do something to stomp it out, or it will happen again. If they think you are weak, they will come back and do it over and over again."

As Lowy vented his wrath, other congregants appealed for caution.

"We don't want pictures," said one member who refused to give his name. "We don't want any publicity because then someone will come back and do something worse. We don't want someone throwing a firebomb at us."

The synagogue, once in the center of a thriving immigrant Jewish community in Hollywood, has dwindled in membership over the years as a wave of immigrants from South America has replaced those who traced their roots to Europe. Although 300 attended services there 30 years ago, today there are only about 15, including some elderly survivors of the concentration camps.

"Every year, as time goes by, more and more die off," said Lowy.

Police from the Hollywood station are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

It is not the first time the synagogue has had problems with vandals. A few weeks ago, painters from the volunteer Hollywood Beautification Team were called in to remove taggers' graffiti and were threatened by gang members with guns, according to a woman who supervised the work.

"We were just there (last month) to help keep the community clean," said the woman, who declined to give her name. "Then some guys came up and told me they didn't want us painting. One of them had a gun."

The painters returned to the neighborhood with a police escort on Thursday to paint over the swastika, and Lowy said he will not be intimidated. "It won't go away if you stick your head in the sand and wish it to," he said. "You have to fight back."

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