“It was really a moment where the community came together,” he said. “It really blew my mind.”
Kragen, who is Jewish, said he does not believe he was individually targeted.
Still, he said, he felt a deep responsibility to raise awareness of what had happened, particularly as the son of Holocaust survivors. Three of his grandparents and seven of his eight aunts and uncles died in the war.
“I just can’t sit still,” he said. “It 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 an opportunity to educate about anti-Semitism.
“These acts have odious consequences,” he said. “Racism and antisemitism are very real parts of our society. You can’t be afraid. You just have to push and look these people in the face.”
Rabbi Yonatan Cohen of Berkeley Congregation Beth Israel was the first to alert Berkeleyside to the Monterey Avenue incident. He said Jews sometimes find themselves “on the front lines” because they wear ritual clothing, such as head coverings, and mark entrances with mezuzahs.
“Parents like me find ourselves wondering on days like these, ‘Do I still send my son to Camp Cal with a yarmulke on his head, or is a cap a safer option?’” Cohen told Berkeleyside on Tuesday. “My family’s decision is clear: we will remain firm and proud. This is also the strong response from my community.”
He said he hoped to see these latest incidents spur action from the broader community as well.
“This question should also be asked of all Berkeley residents: What decisions 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 just for Jews. This threatens the fabric of our own society.”
Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, who represents North Berkeley, said she had been outraged and saddened to learn of the incidents on Monterey Avenue.
“Scratching a swastika on the side of a car takes time,” Hahn told Berkeleyside on Tuesday. “From the photos I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like it was done quickly. So it seems like there was a lot of intentionality around it.”
She continued: “The Nazi symbol is a symbol of terror and genocide for the Jewish people. It’s very, very disturbing to have that in our neighborhoods.”
As of this year, there have been 15 reported hate crimes or hate incidents 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 actual or perceived protected social group.
Last year, a man was charged with multiple hate crimes after he allegedly disrupted weekend services at a Berkeley synagogue with anti-Semitic threats of violence, according to police. Perhaps the most high-profile hate incident, not crime, in Berkeley this year involved hundreds of anti-Semitic flyers being dropped outside homes in the Berkeley Hills.
Even more recently, in mid-May, another resident in the 1000 block of Monterey Avenue called the police after she and her husband saw a white woman sitting at a North Berkeley bus stop holding a racial slur sign. directed at blacks. (She and her husband are black).
They called the police and eventually alerted local officials when BPD did not return their calls.
“We want to put on the record that you raise our antennas on the hate lurking in our neighborhood,” he wrote in an email to the city. “We felt it was our obligation to raise awareness of this unfortunate incident, one that we do not want to see repeated and that type of cancer rear its ugly head where we live.”
Nationally, antisemitic hate crimes have been on the rise in recent years, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which track those reports.
“Carving swastikas in the middle of the night on parked cars in Berkeley is a grim reminder that anti-Semitic incidents affect communities everywhere,” said Teresa Drenick, deputy regional director for the ADL Central Pacific Region. “Anti-Semitism and hate crimes continue to rise in the Bay Area, the state and the nation. ADL is pleased that the Berkeley Police Department is investigating vandalism as a hate crime and we encourage anyone with information that may assist the investigation to contact BPD.”
Officer Byron White, a BPD spokesman, 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 images.
“If anyone has information, please let us know so we can capture this individual so they don’t cause further harm to the community,” White said. “Any time the Berkeley Police Department receives a report of a hate crime or hate incident, it is considered a serious incident. It is a serious concern not only for the department but for the entire city.”
Until now, no practical advice had been forthcoming, he said.
“We’ve knocked on doors,” White said. “No one has reported seeing the suspect.”
Mayor Jesse Arreguín told Berkeleyside that he hopes police can 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 am coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure that 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.”
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