Congregants at Temple Beth El who had gathered to celebrate the last night of Hanukkah were met by a group of neo-Nazi demonstrators who waved red-and-black swastika flags outside the Reform synagogue in Riverside on Friday evening.
Rabbi Suzanne Singer said the demonstration was the third such protest at the temple in recent months. She said she thinks it was connected to a counter-protest held in September by members of the synagogue and others responding to a neo-Nazi protest at a day labor site.
"It's not that we're unconcerned," she said in an interview Saturday. "We're just not going to allow them to dictate how we worship and how we live as Jews."
Congregant Ryan Lester-Wilson, 61, said he noticed the group of fewer than 12 protesters, but ignored it and went straight inside the temple. When asked Saturday why the temple was targeted, Lester-Wilson was at a loss.
"It's a temple," he said. "They're Nazis."
Singer said her synagogue continued with services.
Riverside Police Lt. Tim Bacon said that the demonstration was small and that a call was made to police Friday night, but could not say whether officers were sent to monitor the scene.
Bacon said that despite reports of other neo-Nazi demonstrations in Riverside in recent months, he does not consider Friday's incident part of a trend in the area.
"We don't have many problems," he said.
Lester-Wilson said that during the last demonstration, local church members joined with congregants at Temple Beth El, attending services in a show of solidarity.
The services Friday night were part of an annual holiday celebration in which the temple invites community members from local churches and other groups to join in lighting dozens of menorahs.
Temple Beth El President Kara Gilman said the strong turnout by community members showed that the demonstrators' message was not mainstream.
"All this does is bring people closer together," Gilman said. "The message that they're trying to send isn't the message people in Riverside want."
Singer said her synagogue, a local Islamic center and several area churches would be raising banners outside their respective buildings next month declaring, "We value diversity. Unity in love."