Area of Key West Cemetery
From the Key West Citizen of July 15, 2002
Not yet recovered from an arson fire that gutted one of their houses of worship, for the second time in three months Key West's Jewish community has been the target of what could be an anti-Semitic attack. Sometime early Sunday, vandals knocked over eight granite headstones in the B'nai Zion section of the Key West Cemetery. On April 16, a purposefully lit fire ripped through the B'nai Zion synagogue on United Street, gutting the interior and leaving the congregation without a place to worship.
After the vandalism was discovered Sunday by a yardman in the area, Key West police were called to the scene around 10 a.m. and met by congregation members, some shocked others expressing sadness.
"In my 52 years here, I have never known anyone to be discriminating,"
said Clara Listz, whose husband is buried close to the desecrated area. Listz,
Fire investigators ruled the April 16 blaze was arson within days of the crime. However, no one has been arrested in the case. Congregation member Donna Feldman said those driving by the building would scarcely know there was ever a fire. "It's what's inside that counts. We want the community to see the inside of the synagogue," she said.
Because they are short about $600,000 in funds to repair the synagogue, the congregation is planning a fund-raiser yard sale July 28 at the United Street building.
While evidence didn't exist Sunday to suggest the latest act was motivated by hate, police were calling the incident criminal mischief. Feldman said she would like to see that classification changed. "I hope we can get it designated as a hate crime," she said. "We haven't gotten the synagogue fire classified as a hate crime, but this is clearly an act of anti-Semitism. "Key West is not a place for anti-Semitism, but here it is again, rearing its ugly head."
Congregation President Dr. Fred Covan said while the spirit of the congregation remains strong, their attitudes since the arson fire have changed. "First they were scared. Now, they're getting pissed," he said. "This is stupid, impotent, gutless, cowardly behavior on the part of some ignorant people, and I'm hoping they're caught and educated on what they have done."
Florida law says evidence of prejudice must exist based on "race,
color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin,
mental or physical disability or advanced age of the victim" in
order for an act to be called a hate crime.