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Police Investigating Missing Mezuzah in Williamsburg as Hate Crime

By Serena Dai | August 1, 2014 1:29pm | Updated on August 4, 2014 8:39am
 A mezuzah that was allegedly taken from the front door of an apartment in Independence Towers is being investigated as a hate crime.
A mezuzah that was allegedly taken from the front door of an apartment in Independence Towers is being investigated as a hate crime.
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Marcos Masri

SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG — A Jewish ritual object that went missing in a Williamsburg apartment building is being investigated by the police hate crime unit, officials said — more than a year after a man burned a dozen mezuzahs in the same area.

A man living at 75 Wilson St., one of the Independence Towers, arrived home on Wednesday at 3 p.m. to find that his mezuzah was missing from his apartment doorway, police said.

He had left home at 9 a.m., police said.

The mezuzah is a ritual object with parchment inscribed with Hebrew Biblical verses inside. It represents God's protection of the home and is typically affixed to the doorframe of a home.

The potential crime comes more than a year after Ruben Ubiles, 35, confessed to burning a dozen mezuzahs in the nearby Taylor-Wythe Homes on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

 A mezuzah outside a door at 85 Taylor St.
A mezuzah outside a door at 85 Taylor St.
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DNAinfo/Trevor Kapp

Residents in the South Williamsburg public housing complex have since decried the lack of security from the city, including an incident where a 25-year-old man Hasidic man was shot in an attempted robbery in the fall.

Hasidic community leader Gary Schlesinger said Wednesday's missing mezuzah, which is supposed to "protect us from evil," is a "wake up call" for NYCHA to implement security cameras faster.

Schlesinger noted that security is especially important with increased shootings in the area.

The 90th precinct, where the homes are, went from four shooting victims last year to 12 this year in the same time period, according to police statistics.

"Don’t drag your feet when it comes to safety, the residents in the neighborhood and religious freedom," Schlesinger said.

NYCHA does not have independent funding to purchase security cameras, instead relying on spending from local politicians like Councilman Stephen Levin, a NYCHA spokeswoman said.

In 2013, NYCHA installed more than $400,000 worth of cameras and security infrastructure at Independence Towers and more than $200,000 worth at Taylor-Wythe, money that's built up from the councilman over the years.

This year, Levin allocated $100,000 to spend on new cameras at Taylor-Wythe, which are still in the process of being installed. It's unclear how much can be spent on cameras in the future because the councilman evaluates on a year-to-year basis based on the capital funding budget, a Levin spokesman said.

It sometimes takes months to finalize due to state-of-the-art infrastructure linking the cameras to monitors and the police department, the NYCHA spokeswoman said.

“Everyone deserves to be safe in their homes," the spokeswoman said. "We’re continually working with the NYPD and our residents to make our properties as safe as possible."

Resident Marcos Masri, who lives at 75 Wilson St., said that though his building has many security cameras installed, there are still gaps in the complex — in other buildings or at his building's back door and stairwell.

Masri said he's pushing for more cameras and more funding.

That said, the mezuzah theft also speaks to cultural differences within the complex that have come up in recent years, said Masri, who's lived there for 26 years.

More and more non-Hasidic Jewish people are moving in, and some education may help people understand each other, said Masri, who's Hispanic and Jewish but not Hasidic.

"I'm feeling that [the theft] shows how people don't understand or respect each other," he said. "We have to work together."