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A very young Semion Rachshtut and his mother fled Ukraine and the advancing Nazi’s in 1941, 73 years ago. But he saw this week that hate does not carry an expiration date, arriving with his wife Ella to their northeast Philadelphia store on 9/11 to find six or more red swastikas painted on it. Swasktikas were the symbol of Germany’s Nazis, who committed genocide against the Jewish people in Europe, killing 6 million of them. By the end of the war in 1945, two of every three Jews in Europe had been murdered.
In 1941, when he was just 7 months old, Semion and his mother escaped his native land of Ukraine, ahead of the advancing Nazis and their Holocaust. “This is a shame,” he said. “This is no good. Not in America, you know?” Semion and Ella Rachshtut came to the United States after living for some time in Israel. Their shop – which specializes in kosher meats and Israeli foods – remains open and reportedly is quite busy.
“I was flabbergasted,” said Ettie Bensignor, a nearby resident. “Because nobody in this neighborhood has ever done something like that. It was overwhelming, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!”
The Oxford Circle neighborhood in the City of Brotherly Love around Simon’s Glatt Kosher Meat Products on the 6900 block of Bustleton Ave. takes pride in hosting many cultures and religions, of being an American melting pot. Neighbors report feeling the attack personally and find it hard to believe they have been hit with anti-Semitic vandalism. Unfortunately, the 9/11 attack was not the first this year. It was on June 13 that Congregations of Ner Zedek, a synagogue a few blocks from the Rachshtut’s store, was similarly vandalized. Police say it is too early to say whether the two events were connected.
On March 6, a Nazi swastika symbol was painted by a person or person near Philadelphia’s memorial to the Holocaust on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Thirty-eight anti-Semitic acts were documented in the Delaware and Pennsylvania areas in 2012. In 2013, a Philadelphia college saw an anti-Semitic slogan scrawled on a Jewish student’s refrigerator.
The most recent incident could have been nothing more than juvenile mischief, hurtful though it is. “Mischief? Misplaced mischief? But, man, it hurts,” said Peter Kurtz, another neighbor.
Local hairdresser Merryl Landers said “It is like getting a punch to the stomach. It really is. It’s always been a nice, nice neighborhood. It’s very hurtful, whether you’re Jewish or not…. It’s really upsetting.”
Although the Philadelphia police department has said that no recent reports have been recorded about similar incidents in the area, Rachshtut’s son told a reporter that it was only a few weeks ago that rocks were thrown through the windows of his father’s store.
Detectives have combed the area for clues and are investigating the anti-Semitic incident as a hate crime. It remains unclear whether surveillance cameras at nearby storefronts recorded the culprits in the act and no suspects have been identified.
Police Capt. Frank Palumbo was asked if the incident could be related to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States and the World Trade Center, which was known to be staffed by many Jews. “Certainly on 9/11 we’re concerned about things like these happening and we’re looking into that possibility,” he said. “That it’s related in some way to something to do with 9/11.”
Joshua Cohen of the Anti-Defamation League said that, as a symbol of hate, the use of swastika graffiti is intended to impart intimidation and fear. He said that the criminals wanted to damage property and “send a message of hate to the entire community.”
By Gregory Baskin
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