A vandal scratched a swastika on several cars parked on Monterey Avenue in North Berkeley over the weekend. Credit: Jules Kragen

A hate crime investigation is underway in North Berkeley this week following the discovery Sunday morning of several vehicles on Monterey Avenue that had been marked with swastikas by an unknown vandal or vandals.

The antisemitic symbol was scratched into the side of three vehicles in the 1000 block of Monterey, near Colusa Avenue, between about 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday. A fourth vehicle had a window smashed in with a brick. As of Tuesday, BPD said, no eyewitnesses had yet come forward.

News of the antisemitic hate crime spread quickly through the Berkeley community after longtime resident Jules Kragen, whose car was vandalized, posted about it on Nextdoor. In response, nearly 200 people reacted and more than 100 people wrote comments to offer words of support.

“It was really a moment of the community coming together,” he said. “It really kind of blew me away.”

Kragen, who is Jewish, said he does not believe he had been individually targeted.

Still, he said, he felt a deep responsibility to raise awareness about what had taken place, particularly as a child of Holocaust survivors. Three of his grandparents and seven of his eight aunts and uncles were killed in the war.

“I just cannot sit still,” he said. “I would not honor their memories by doing so.”

At least one of the other damaged vehicles is also owned by a Jewish family.

Kragen told Berkeleyside that, while he hopes those responsible will be found and required to pay restitution, he sees what happened largely as a chance for education about antisemitism.

“These acts have hateful consequences,” he said. “Racism and antisemitism are very real parts of our society. You cannot be afraid. You just have to push through and look at these people head-on.”

It’s time to offer support to Jewish neighbors, rabbi says

Rabbi Yonatan Cohen, of Berkeley’s Congregation Beth Israel, was the first to alert Berkeleyside about what happened on Monterey Avenue. He said Jews sometimes find themselves “on the frontlines” because they wear ritual clothing, such as head coverings, and mark their doorways with mezuzahs.

“Parents like myself wonder on days like these, ‘Do I continue to send my child to Cal camp with a kippah on their head, or is a hat a safer choice?'” Cohen told Berkeleyside on Tuesday. “My family’s choice is clear: We will continue to stand strong and proud. This is also the resounding answer of my community.”

He said he hoped to see these latest incidents prompt action from the broader community as well.

“This question should also be posed to every Berkeley resident: What choices can you make today to make some of us feel safer?” Cohen said. “Now is the time to contact your neighborhood synagogue and your Jewish neighbor and express your support. The threat is not to Jews alone. This threatens the fabric of our very society.”

Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who represents North Berkeley, said she had been outraged and saddened to learn about the incidents on Monterey Avenue.

“Scratching a swastika into the side of a car takes time,” Hahn, who is Jewish, told Berkeleyside. “From the photos that I’ve seen, it does not look like it was done quickly. So it feels like there was a lot of intentionality around it.”

She continued: “The Nazi symbol is a symbol of terror and genocide for Jewish people. It’s very, very disturbing to have that in our neighborhoods.”

Antisemitic hate crimes on the rise nationwide

As of this year, there had been 15 hate crimes or hate incidents reported in Berkeley through the end of June, compared to 23 during the same period last year. A hate crime is defined as any crime against a person, group or property motivated by the victim’s real or perceived protected social group.

Last year, a man was charged with multiple hate crimes after he allegedly interrupted weekend services at a Berkeley synagogue with antisemitic threats of violence. And perhaps the highest-profile hate incident — not crime — in Berkeley this year involved the dropping of hundreds of antisemitic flyers outside homes in the Berkeley Hills.

Members of other Berkeley groups have also borne the brunt of racial hatred in recent months.

In mid-May, a different neighbor from the 1000 block of Monterey Avenue called police after she and her husband saw a white woman sitting at a North Berkeley bus stop holding a sign with a racial slur aimed at Black people. (She and her husband are Black.)

They called police, and ultimately alerted local officials when BPD did not call them back.

“We do want to go on record that it raises our antennas on the hate that is lurking right in our neighborhood,” she wrote in an email to the city later that month. “We felt it our obligation to raise awareness of this unfortunate incident, one we don’t want to see repeated nor have that kind of cancer rearing its ugly head where we live.”

Nationally, hate crimes, including antisemitic hate crimes, have been on the rise in recent years, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which tracks those reports.

“Carving swastikas in the middle of the night on cars parked in Berkeley is a grim reminder that antisemitic incidents affect communities everywhere,” said Teresa Drenick, deputy regional director for ADL Central Pacific Region. “Antisemitism and hate crimes continue to increase in the Bay Area, the state and the nation. ADL is pleased that the Berkeley Police Department is investigating the vandalism as hate crimes and we encourage anyone who has information that could assist in the investigation to contact BPD.”

Police are seeking Monterey Avenue surveillance footage

Officer Byron White, BPD spokesperson, asked anyone with information about this latest incident to call 510-981-5900, the department’s non-emergency number, to share details. He also asked residents with home security systems to review them for relevant footage.

“If anyone has information, let us know so we can capture this person so they can’t cause any more harm to the community,” White said. “Anytime the Berkeley Police Department receives a report of a hate crime or hate incident, it’s considered a serious incident. It’s a serious concern for not only the department but for the entire city.”

But the investigation has been slow and, so far, actionable tips have not been forthcoming, he added.

“We’ve knocked on doors,” said White. “No one has reported seeing the suspect.”

Mayor Jesse Arreguín told Berkeleyside that he hopes police will be able to solve the case.

“A crime against one of us is a crime against all of us,” Arreguín said in a prepared statement. “I stand in solidarity with our vibrant Jewish community, and I’m coordinating closely with police to ensure the individual who carried out this cowardly display of hate is held accountable. Hate crimes will never be tolerated in Berkeley, this is a community that celebrates diversity in all its forms.”

Emilie Raguso (senior editor, news) joined the Berkeleyside team in 2012. She covers politics, public safety and development. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...