Rivy Poupko Kletenik

You crossed a line


This time you crossed a line. Since the brutal October 7th attack on Israel and its response in Gaza, “STOP” signs in our neighborhood have been vandalized with your scribbling about Israel. Below the word “STOP” you have written, “STOP” “bombing Gaza” or “STOP” “Israel” or “STOP” “Israel genocide.” As per protocol, we have reported your graffiti vandalization and then scrubbed the writing off.

This week I tried to clean off, yet another graffitied “STOP” sign with some Windex and a rag – it did not come off. A neighbor saw me. I told him that it probably needed something with a bit more muscle, steel wool maybe? He said he would get a ladder and take care of it. We introduced ourselves and had a bonding moment.

The next day, I was driving the same route down the steep hill of Morgan Street to Seward Park for my daily brisk walk around the loop when I spotted further scribbled graffiti on the very same sign. I screeched to a halt. This time the sign’s writing was a gut punch. Below the word, “STOP” were the words, “THE ISRAELI REICH.”

You need to know that as a Jew, seeing those words is dreadful.

Seward Park Graffiti Scribbler, I am trying to get into your mind, you the individual who has been writing the graffiti. Are you doggedly targeting this neighborhood because of the Jewish presence here? Do you think that the Jews who live in this area in Seattle are responsible for the actions of the State of Israel? Do you think that the Jewish children and teens that live in this neighborhood deserve to feel intimidated as they walk to synagogue on Saturday morning? Do you think that the elderly Holocaust survivors and their families who call our neighborhood home need to see the words, “The ISRAELI REICH?” Do you not understand the collective trauma that all Jews have regarding Nazis, Hitler, and the Third Reich?

Among the harsh realities we have learned since October 7 is that there is no distance nor distinction in the mind of haters between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. We are a convenient target for their venal hatred. Not unlike Jews of Europe during the Crusades. Why exert yourself to kill infidels in the Holy Land when you have neighbors conveniently nearby who can be targeted?

The thing is, I don’t have a lot of patience for people who throw around the words Nazi and Reich or who draw swastika signs on Jewish temples. Ignorance does not come close to describing their weaponizing and throwing in our face the the very calling card of the perpetrators of those who sought to commit the most heinous genocide in world history, genocide – genocide, as in the word that needed to be coined in order to describe the heinous unprecedented agenda of the Germans towards world Jewry.

Seward Park Graffiti Scribbler, who are you? Do you fancy yourself brave, as you defame public property under the guise of activism? Is graffiti your gateway antisemitic act? Shall we be concerned that you are building up to more criminal violent deeds?

Is there another denomination that must employ armed guards at every institution and an event from a Back-to-School Barbecue to Sunday morning brunch?

Our family moved to Seattle from Pittsburgh. The 2018 shooting that happened in the synagogue there is never far from mind. Need we be concerned? Shall we employ even more security for our houses of worship? Tell me, how unsafe would you like us to feel?

The truth? Your cowardly adolescent acting out is not working. Walk around the neighborhood a bit more – you’ll Israeli flags flying from houses and most of use wearing Israeli flags and hostage dog-tag necklaces and pins. We’ve marched we’ve protested and we won’t stop.

Finally, anonymous cowardly graffiti terrorist please know this, Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, has the right to defend itself against violent, vicious attacks perpetrated on its people. And yes – we stand with Israel and no nocturnal graffiti scrawler will ever dissuade us.

About the Author
Rivy Poupko Kletenik, a 2002 Exceptional Jewish Educator Covenant Award Winner, just completed sixteen years as Head of School at the Seattle Hebrew Academy. Rivy is an enthusiastic writer and devotee of poetry and literature. Her column “What’s Your JQ” appeared for years in the JT News and then “Jewish in Seattle Magazine” and she is thrilled and proud to be awarded the Simon Rockower American Jewish Press Association Excellence in Commentary.
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