Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) has introduced a bill that would significantly increase the penalties for anyone vandalizing or stealing from a house of worship, or stealing or damaging religious items and artifacts found inside.
Lancman made the announcement Monday at Congregation Ohr Natan, a Jewish religious center on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park.
Vandals late last year scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti on the wall near the center’s front door, a discovery that was made by worshippers as they arrived for Sunday morning services.
“Violating the sanctity of a house of worship through vandalism or theft violates our most fundamental values as Americans and New Yorkers, and merits the additional punishment that this legislation imposes,” Lancman said. “Let anyone lowly or cowardly enough to consider defacing or stealing from a sanctuary think twice, knowing that such crimes will be taken extremely seriously.”
The bill would increase the maximum penalty for the theft or intentional damage of a scroll, vessel or any other item from four years to seven, and would make both felonies.
The maximum penalty for intentional damage to a house of worship would increase from one year in jail to four years.
Just a day after the press conference, police reported that 13 silver artifacts were stolen from a Queens synagogue [see separate story in some editions or at qchron.com].
Rabbi Nahum Kaziyev said he and many in his congregation fled Europe for the religious freedoms of the United States.
“Many of them lived through the persecutions in the Soviet Union. Some survived the Holocaust,” he said.
He did say that his faith calls him to forgive the person or persons who vandalized their center.
“For sure, for sure. Right away,” Kaziyev said. “He’s forgiven, but, I would think that we always forgive, but the person, I hope he’s going to realize how much he hurt the feelings of so many people. Sometimes you don’t need to hurt people physically, but by an ugliness, you can hurt them so much. I hope some people can get the message.”
While Kaziyev is willing to forgive, Lancman and the legislators present Monday are not willing to forget.
State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) said her own synagogue was vandalized several years ago. She is backing a companion bill in the Senate introduced by state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx and Westchester). Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) said Lancman’s bill has his total support.
Klein was not present, but in a statement issued through Lancman’s office, he said, “an assault on a house of worship is an assault on the entire community.”
Assemblyman Charles Levine was at Ohr Natan. He said even the most mindless offense against houses of worship must be addressed, quoting Rabbi Abraham Joseph Heschel, who lost his family in Nazi-occupied Europe.
“He said the Holocaust did not start with the construction of the crematoriums, and Hitler did not come to power though use of guns and tanks,” Levine said. “He said they happened through small acts of hate that were tolerated.”
Maria Fitzsimons contributed to this story.