The Chief Rabbi has strongly condemned the homophobic vandalism of a banner at the JW3 community centre late last week, describing it as “unacceptable”.
A poster advertising the Jewish community centre’s GayW3 festival was defaced in the early morning last Thursday.
The perpetrator, who was caught on camera, daubed the word “SHAME” on the poster. The video of the incident has been passed on to the police.
In a statement issued today, Rabbi Mirvis said: “As I have made clear previously, homophobia is unacceptable and we must have zero tolerance for it.
“There is no excuse for vandalism. Seeking out conflict is divisive and destructive – nothing positive can come of agitating for public protest and disharmony.”
In a Facebook post, Raymond Simonson, JW3 chief executive, said he was “saddened and disgusted” by the incident.
“We've had dozens of banners outside our building in the past couple of years, promoting "Israel Week", "Gefiltefest", "Jewish Book Week", "Haaretz Conference", "UK Jewish Film Festival", "SERET Israeli Film & TV Festival" and more,” he said.
“None of them have been vandalised or damaged. The first time the word ‘gay’ goes up, we have our first experience of this kind of hate crime.
Mr Simonson said he had added letters to the graffiti in order to change it to a positive message – “unashamed” rather than “shame”
“One of my brilliant colleagues suggested we amend and improve the budding graffiti artist's handiwork by adding "UNA" before, and "D" after. So it was with real satisfaction that I hanged a paintbrush and some paint, and led by example,” he said.
Speaking to the JC, Mr Simonson made it clear that the centre had “no agenda” and was aimed at serving everyone in the community, no matter what their religious level.
“My issue here is about tolerance,” he said.
“If there’s something that people don’t like about other people’s lifestyles or what they do, it’s not the Jewish way to react with hatred or by stirring up intolerance.”
He added: “We’re not trying to convince anyone to change their opinions or beliefs or anything like that. We’re not promoting one kind of culture over another. We’re putting on programming, the diversity of which reflects the diversity of the community, and we expect people to be tolerant.
“There really isn’t an agenda, and the fact that some people would suggest there’s some kind of agenda is unfortunate, inappropriate and upsetting.”
In his Facebook post, Mr Simonson published a message which he said had been circulating online in various Orthodox groups.
It referred to ‘GayW3’ as “terrible 2 week event under the banner of 'Judaism' in support of To'eva lifestyles.”
The word To’eva, used in the Bible to describe homosexuality, means “abomination.”
The message went on to say that by holding the event JW3 was “encouraging and supporting such lifestyles in the Jewish community”, and called on Orthodox Jews to “dissociate completely” from the centre.
In the wake of the homophobic shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year, the Chief Rabbi said that “we must also be honest enough to recognise that there are places where the scourge of homophobia persists, even in our own communities, and that is totally unacceptable."
He added that it was the responsibility of faith leaders to act where "that hate is religiously motivated", going on to say that "Unambiguous condemnation of terror attacks such as this is an important place to start, but it alone is not sufficient. In the face of such unspeakable violence, we must be introspective.
"After Orlando, we must take a step beyond condemnation and open our hearts and our synagogues so that no Jew feels persecuted or excluded from our communities."
And Mr Simonson said that among the “hundreds” of messages of support he and JW3 had received, there had also been many from the Orthodox community, which he described as “amazing”.
“These people may personally not be comfortable with the place of homosexuality within Jewish thought and tradition, but respect other human beings made in the image of God,” Mr Simonson said.
“They might not come to a single event in that programme because it’s not for them, and I totally respect that. But they sent messages of support saying that they don’t stand up for bullies.”