A Pennsylvania man accused of vandalizing a Beverly Hills synagogue and damaging relics pleaded not guilty Monday to felony charges that include a hate crime allegation.
Anton Nathaniel Redding, 24, of Millersville, was arraigned on one count each of vandalism of religious property and second-degree burglary at the Airport Branch Courthouse. He was ordered to return on Jan. 30, when a date is expected to be set for a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
Redding, who remains in custody in lieu of $250,000 bail, faces up to six years in prison if convicted of the charges stemming from the Dec. 14 break-in at the Nessah Synagogue at 142 S. Rexford Drive.
A warrant was filed on Dec. 18 and Redding was arrested the same day in Kona, Hawaii.
The defendant was identified based on review of surveillance video and forensic evidence, according to Beverly Hills police Lt. Elisabeth Albanese, who alleged that he ransacked the interior of the synagogue about 2 a.m. and damaged property and holy books.
“The suspect damaged several Jewish relics, but fortunately the synagogue’s main scrolls survived unscathed,” Albanese said earlier. “The disruption was primarily to the synagogue’s interior contents, and there is very limited structural damage.”
It did not appear that any property was stolen during the crime and there were no markings or other overt signs of anti-Semitism left at the synagogue, Albanese said.
However, Torah scrolls were strewn across the floor and atop chairs, prayer books were shredded, and tallits and kippahs were pulled from cubbies in the place of worship, according to a Los Angeles Times reporter who spoke with congregants.
Nessah Synagogue was founded in 1980 by Rabbi David Shofet “and the Iranian Jews of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills,” and “upholds the traditions and customs of Iranian Jews according to Orthodox, Sephardic Halacha,” according to its website.
The congregation moved to its current location in 2002 at the site of what had been a Christian Science church, which moved to a newly built building across the street. Shofet remains the congregation’s chief rabbi.
Members stressed the importance of the synagogue to the Iranian community.
“Our worst nightmare basically came to light,” Farzad Rabbany, who has been a member of the Beverly Hills synagogue for years, told The Times. “This particular synagogue is very dear to the Jewish Iranians that fled the 1979 revolution in Iran, and this is what we call home. It is the largest Persian synagogue in the United States, and perhaps the world.”
Beverly Hills Planning Commissioner Farshid Shooshani expressed the shock felt by many congregants.
“It’s psychologically very devastating because being in Los Angeles, being in Beverly Hills, we are living in one of the safest cities in the area,” Shooshani told the newspaper. “Fortunately, the damage was not much, but I think people have realized that there’s danger everywhere.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles’ first elected Jewish mayor, tweeted on the day of the crime that he was “shocked and outraged by the vandalism at Nessah Synagogue.”
In the immediate aftermath of the crime, the Israeli-American Civic Action Network called on local leaders, elected officials, law enforcement and members of the Persian Jewish, Israeli-American, Russian Jewish and American Jewish communities to stand together to fight what it called a rising tide of anti-Semitism.
“Enough is enough, from the East Coast to the West Coast, Jewish communities are under attack,” said Vered Nisim, California chairwoman of the network, which describes itself as a nonprofit organization “dedicated to empowering Israeli-Americans to create change for a better America, a more secure Israel and a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.”
“Just a few days ago, Jews were killed in Jersey City and now today, this vandalism. How many Jews have to die and how many synagogues have to be destroyed before serious action is taken?”
Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch said he cried on seeing the damage.
“The images evoke something that is terrible because it goes to the heart of the disease that is Jew hatred, that has been around almost from time immemorial,” Mirish told The Times. “A painting thrown down, a clock broken and stopped, shattered glass — it brings back images of Kristallnacht.”