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Thursday, October 27, 2011

New York - Swastika scrawled on Yorktown judge's campaign sign

YORKTOWN — Police are investigating a potential hate crime after a swastika was scrawled on the campaign poster of a sitting town justice seeking re-election.

"It was just a sick feeling that came over me," Justice Ilan Gilbert said of the discovery made following a candidates forum Monday.

"I reached for the sign to pull it down, and I did a double-take. I see it has a swastika etched on the forehead," he said.

Lt. Kevin Soravilla of the Yorktown police said investigators are looking into the incident. Gilbert, who is Jewish, said he placed the poster and other campaign materials in the lobby at Yorktown Stage, which hosted the forum. The vandalism occurred between 6:45 and 9 p.m.

The building also houses various community programs, so Gilbert said those responsible may not have been there for the forum.

"I'm hoping it wasn't someone attending the event because that would be more disturbing to me," he said.

Gilbert said the incident was particularly hurtful for him as the son of an Army medic who witnessed the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp near the end of World War II.

"I know what kind of person I am," he said. "I do my job and some people may not like some of the rulings I make, but I can't imagine someone would take to that extreme anything I would do as a sitting judge. And I can't imagine anyone would do that to me personally."

The incident follows a minor controversy over the scheduling of local youth sports games on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur that Jewish leaders said showed insensitivity to Jewish players and their families.

"I have no idea if the person who did this has any understanding of the significance of the what they did," Councilman James Martorano said. "Terrible things happen everywhere, but this was to my good friend and it was very painful for him to have to go through it."

Rabbi Robert Weiner of Yorktown's Temple Beth Am said there is nothing random about a swastika.

"Even if it's kids who are just doing something because they think it's funny, it's an act of hatred," Weiner said. "It is a horrific act, and the more education that we can do the better."

In 2008, three teens were charged with third-degree burglary in connection with a break-in and vandalism at a seasonal synagogue in Mohegan Lake. Floors and walls were spattered with white paint, a swastika was scrawled inside, and a menorah, prayer scrolls and windows were damaged. Gilbert presided over two of the cases, the files for which are sealed. The third was referred to Family Court.

Gilbert, an administrative justice in the Supreme Court in the Bronx for 29 years and a town justice for four, said he is not naive about the prevalence of such acts.

It won't affect his love for the community, he said.

"It's absolutely an aberration," Gilbert said. "I won't change anything that I do."

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