On Monday, a coalition of Queens political and religious leaders banded together to fight back against anti-Semitic graffiti that struck a Rego Park synagogue last year.
Congregation Ohr Natan, a Bukharian Jewish house of worship, was tagged with spray-painted swastikas and threatening messages in November.
Forest Hills and Rego Park is home to a large community of Bukharian Jews, many of whom have emigrated from their native Russia over the last few decades.
“In New York, and Queens in particular, we pride ourselves on diversity,” said state Sen. Toby Stavisky, D-Forest Hills. “Our diversity gives us strength, and a crime of hate against one person is a crime against all of us. We must end the bullying and the fear, and have zero tolerance for those that would seek to divide us.”
To that end, the group announced on Monday that the state legislature would be considering new legislation in the current session that increased the penalty on convicted criminals who victimize houses of worship.
“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 which this legislation would impose,” said Assemblyman Rory Lancman, D-Hillcrest. ”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 new legislation would raise the maximum sentence for defacing a religious institution from one year to four, and would increase the potential sentence for theft from a religious institution from four years to seven.
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, D-Forest Hills, said seeing synagogues as the victim of such hate crimes breaks her heart.
"I know all too well the horrors of hatred; my grandfather was killed in Poland because he was Jewish,” Koslowitz said. “For the rest of her life my mother was fearful of anything that reminded her of those terrible days in Europe. I witnessed this fear first-hand growing up. Acts of hate only bring back those difficult memories.”