BP Photo by Maia Lefferman '20
YEAR OF THE YARD SIGN: Election’s conflicts and tensions are playing out on area front lawns
Jill Lefferman woke up early Oct. 5 to discover one of the political yard signs had been stolen off her lawn in the heart of Beverlywood. It was a Biden-Harris sign, with the phrase “B’H,” an abbreviation for the Baruch Hashem, or praise God.
In response, she logged on to the NextDoor app, which lets residents of neighborhoods communicate with each other, and posted the news on the site’s community forum.
“Our B’H Biden Harris sign was stolen from our lawn last night,” wrote Ms. Lefferman, who is the mother of Shalhevet alumna Maia Lefferman ‘20. “How sad that we live in a neighborhood where we can’t respect our neighbor’s opinions and private property.”
The Leffermans were especially disheartened that their sign was stolen, given that they specifically chose a sign which included “B’H” in the hopes it would resonate with others in the community and prevent another episode of vandalism. When they supported Black Lives Matter, “MAGA” was written on the street in front of their house in response, and when Maia wrote a controversial article about Kobe Bryant following his death, “24,” the star’s last jersey number, was too.
During the Covid pandemic, yard signs and banners have become a way to express enthusiasm for everything from Black Lives Matter to birthdays, graduations, and bar mitzvahs. Now, in Shalhevet communities including Beverlywood, strife over this year’s presidential election is playing out on neighborhood front lawns in the form of vandalism and the theft of political yard signs.
The issue goes far beyond Los Angeles and is seen throughout the nation. Online videos of people vandalizing and stealing political yard signs have gone viral with millions of views and thousands of comments in support.
But it also exists in Shalhevet communities, as tensions have risen in advance of the presidential election Nov. 3.
Ahead of the election, Principal Daniel Weslow sent an email out to parents and students Oct. 29 informing them that all of the school’s in-person programming, Camp Firehawks, have been canceled the entire week — — after being advised to do so by the school’s security team.
“As you’ve likely heard, reports say that there is a possibility that the election next week may lead to election-related unrest,” it read. “While we don’t anticipate any issues at Shalhevet, out of an abundance of caution, we’ll be canceling all evening programming and activities on campus next week, including Camp Firehawks.”
In Beverlywood, signs have been stolen and arguments have occurred between teens and younger children in the community over the placement and display of their political views. The Boiling Point is also aware of at least three instances of “joke” sign-stealing, along with a widely observed confrontation in Circle Park.
A Shalhevet student with hundreds of followers on their private Instagram posted a short video of taking a sign. She said it was just at a friend’s house and they were doing it to be funny.
Shortly after the Leffermans’ lost their B”H sign, another local resident also posted on NextDoor. Amanda Kogan posted that she and her husband had collected a pile of about 20 stolen Biden-Harris signs left near the corner of West 18th and Wooster streets, about half a mile from the Leffermans’ home.
Ms. Kogan lined them up in rows on her front lawn and invited those who had lost signs to reclaim them. She received more than 20 messages from neighbors asking about their signs. She said she and her husband wanted to show others and the thief that if they try to take away her liberty, she’ll fight back peacefully.
Passersby had positive reactions to her display, she said. Some would cheer, applaud or honk, others said thank you. People who read the story on NextDoor told her that she’d done a mitzvah.
As the election neared, political signs were being displayed in all the neighborhoods where Shalhevet families live. A Boiling Point survey of Beverlywood, Pico-Robertson, Beverly Hills, Westwood and Cheviot Hills, as well as parts of the Hancock Park-LaBrea, Beverly Grove and Valley Village neighborhoods, found mostly Biden-Harris signs.
This reflected the areas’ usual political leanings, which are mostly Democratic despite a minority, yet strong, presence of support for President Trump.
There were also signs sporting slogans like “Black Lives Matter” and “Person, Woman, Man, Vote Biden.”
Some signs were homemade.There are also a few signs in Hebrew, some hand-painted. An all-Hebrew Biden-Harris including B’’H was seen in Westwood, and in the flats of Beverly Hills, the same two letters were used as a pun: “B’H 2020.”
Amidst many Biden-Harris signs in Pico-Robertson, a large Trump-Pence banner hung from the balcony of a duplex last weekend. East of Robertson, a large, hand-painted Biden-Harris sign all in Hebrew was spotted on Airdrome near Shenandoah.
A few Westwood homes featured comical signs like “Bye-Don” and “Any Functioning Adult 2020.”
Boiling Point staff also surveyed data compiled by the New York Times, which showed that 71% of voters from precincts surveyed in Beverlywood, 80% of voters from precincts surveyed in Westwood-Century City, and 67% of voters from precincts surveyed in Beverly Hills voted Democratic in the 2016 election.
In the LaBrea and Hancock Park areas, there were many Biden-Harris signs including one saying “Jews For Biden,” along with Black Lives Matter signs. Last month, there was also one for Trump.
In those precincts, data compiled by the New York Times showed that 62% of voters (628 votes) voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 35% (349 votes) voted for Trump.
I know of people that have been, unfortunately, intolerant, and drive around ripping out Biden-Harris signs.
— Daniel Kunin, 10th Grade
In Valley Village areas surveyed, there were a bunch of Biden signs but no Trump signs were reported to be seen.
Students agree that the vandalism of political signs is unacceptable and diverse beliefs must be tolerated, and some have experienced these acts firsthand.
Sophomore Daniel Kunin reports that he knows of people who have taken part in this activity, though he wouldn’t say who they were or what school they attended.
“I know of people that have been, unfortunately, intolerant, and drive around ripping out Biden-Harris signs,” Daniel said. He also said he’d seen someone driving in Beverly Hills tear out Trump signs.
Daniel attempted to get someone who had stolen Biden signs to talk to the Boiling Point, but they refused on multiple occasions even when told their name would not be used.
One person who was willing to speak was a Beverlywood 10th-grader we’ll call “Sarah,” who asked that her real name not be used. At around 5 p.m. on Shabbat afternoon Oct. 17, Sarah, who doesn’t go to Shalhevet, became involved in a conflict with middle school students near Circle Park.
The incident was witnessed by multiple Shalhevet students, including Boiling Point staff, who corroborated her story.
It started when Sarah tried to protect and restore a Biden-Harris sign that had been vandalized and thrown in the street.
“I walked up to the sign with one of my friends,” Sarah said, “and on one side it was crossed out in red-and-black marker, and on the other side, it had double-sided tape streaked all along the words, and dirt was thrown onto the tape — basically just making the sign look dirty.”
When Sarah tried to put the sign back in its place on a parking strip on Beverly Drive between Sawyer and Bolton streets, a young boy who she recognized from the neighborhood said the sign was on his property and that he didn’t want it to be there. She doesn’t know his name but believes he is 11 or 12.
She tried to explain that the parking strip was owned by the city of Los Angeles, not by any homeowner. But then another child from the park grabbed the sign and ran away. When that boy dropped the sign on Sawyer Street on a random resident’s front lawn, Sarah felt compelled to take the sign to shield it and clean it so she could return it later.
As she walked away, the boys jeered after her yelling: “Trump 2020, Joe Biden is a rapist,” she and witnesses said, and also told her that she should be ashamed that she had attended Maimonides Academy.
Sarah went inside of a friend’s house to clean the sign, but that when she came outside the boys had followed her and yelled additional political statements, including, “I would vote for Biden, but I’m not allowed to vote for trash.”
Witnesses, including Daniel Kunin, said the park was full of people at the time, some laughing and others just staring. They said the middle-schoolers’ parents, or other adults who knew them, were in the park and did not intervene.
Shalhevet sophomore Julia Mizrahi, who was with Sarah that afternoon, said that the parents were calling to their kids, but didn’t tell them to stop.
“We were also being screamed at by many little kids,” Julia said. “They were really young. They were probably like 7, and one of them was saying to Sarah ‘it was a disgrace that you went to Maimo.’”
Sarah and Julia both were most upset about the intolerance the kids seemed to have learned and that they presumably didn’t have any understanding of the weight of their actions.
“The biggest problem is just these parents teaching the kids intolerance,” Sarah said. “The thing is, I’m sure the little kids didn’t even know what rape is. Like saying ‘Joe Biden’s a rapist’ — they don’t even know what that means, they just kind of follow along with what the older kids and their parents tell them.”
In addition, Sarah thought, the behavior at Circle Park would have been a poor representation of the community for a non-Jew passing by. Along with vandalism of political yard signs, she said she has also seen kids running around in the streets and almost getting hit by cars, along with no usage of masks or regard to social distancing.
“I was worried for Beverlywood, honestly, and like the whole Jewish community, because if this is how people saw us — this is horrible,” she said.
Yard sign vandalism — and fear of it — reaches far beyond Los Angeles and has caused some residents to fear displaying signs or advertising their political opinions. English teacher Ms. Nancy Fasules spent her summer in Montana. She said she wanted to display signs for Biden but decided not to.
“I was inclined to put my signs out in Montana, because in Montana I wanted to make a statement,” Ms. Fasules said.
But she was fearful that it might cause trouble, and be dangerous to her as she was living alone at the time.
“Noah” — a male Shalhevet senior who is politically conservative — was willing to speak on the condition that his real name would not be used. He said he could unquestionably see why people would be hesitant to display signs and publicly display their beliefs — even though a majority of Shalhevet students support President Trump, according to a Boiling Point poll.
Noah said people would be hesitant to put up yard signs supporting President Trump in a more populated or Democratic area due to fear of people stealing the signs, egging their houses, vandalizing their property, or targeting the person who displayed them.
“I am very disturbed by the reality of the world in which there are people who will go out of their way to ruin your livelihood and your future because of the political opinions that you hold,” Noah said.
“It is very disturbing to me that if I want to succeed in the world at large, it would be best that I not publicly express my political opinions.”
He has not seen such behavior in his area, Pico-Robertson, however, other than a piece of paper with “Trump” written on it taped to a Biden-Harris sign. Yet he sees these outcomes as possibilities and has heard of cases in which signs have been stolen.
Students have different ideas about what motivates the exhibition and the trashing of these signs. Freshman Keira Deutsch believes it’s a desire to express their political beliefs in their community and present who they’re aligned with. She compared it to the Jewish tradition of wearing kippot.
However, why people would vandalize signs is harder for students to understand. Daniel Kunin thinks emotions stir up the urge to remove them.
“For many people, politics are a deeply emotional and sensitive topic,” said Dani. “If someone truly believes a candidate will or has done them harm, they will do anything in their power to ensure that they are not re-elected, beginning with hampering their spread and influence on the area around them.”
Senior Samson Taxon said people may take down signs because they don’t want the opposite of their beliefs to represent the area they live in.
“People with the same beliefs kind of live near each other,” said Samson, “and if somebody strongly opposes a political viewpoint, they don’t want that sign representing the entire neighborhood.”
It is very disturbing to me that if I want to succeed in the world at large, it would be best that I not publicly express my political opinions.
— Anonymous Shalhevet Senior
But the tension has bled into school life, too. There have been long-running political debates in gradewide group chats, some of which have included intolerance of an opposing side’s beliefs.
Chats have discussed topics from abortion to immigration policy, covid, LGBTQ+ rights, and more, yet some have escalated and turned into harmful discussions.
Multiple people on one group chat were asking others to be respectful after the conversation got carried away.
“Guys,” one student wrote, “why can’t we just respect people’s opinions let people like who they like and not call each other out for it.”
In response, Agenda Committee Vice-chair Jack Sanders posted an admonition on Schoology Oct. 26, referencing the Oct. 13 presidential debate. The committee had gathered at the suggestion of Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg in hopes of taking action to cool things down.
“Look no further than our first 2020 presidential debate,” Jack wrote on behalf of the committee: “Courtesy, respect, sympathy, honor and nearly every other virtue was absent. In light of all this, we as the rising generation can break this habit, but not without effort.”
He said the ultimate goal of discourse should be truth:
“If we all stay conscious of who and what we’re arguing then we will get closer to the Truth, the ultimate goal,” Jack wrote.
But as Election Day drew nearer, the streets of Beverlywood were still scenes of conflict.
At around 4:30 p.m. on the Shabbat afternoon Oct. 24, a black pickup truck drove around Circle Park donning a Trump flag on one side and a “Blue Lives Matter” flag on the other according to Boiling Point staff member Tehilla Fishman.
Tehilla reported that the driver circled the park multiple times until he drove away after a kid yelled “F— Trump” at them. Although she didn’t hear the explicit response, Tehilla said that the driver yelled back saying that the kid’s comment was disrespectful. She said it seemed he was just driving around to support President Trump.
It was on the same day as a Pro-Trump rally with hundreds of participants in Beverly Hills’s Beverly Gardens Park.
The Los Angeles Police Department has apparently not commented publicly on the political demolition taking place in the city, although police in many other cities have. LAPD does not list yard sign vandalism on its news website.
Theft and vandalism of political yard signs have saddened people in the community as they feel their freedom of speech is infringed upon prior to an election that they believe is so crucial to the fate of the country.
People with the same beliefs kind of live near each other, and if somebody strongly opposes a political viewpoint, they don’t want that sign representing the entire neighborhood.”
— Samson Taxon, 12th Grade
Amanda Kogan feels the dumping of signs near her house was organized and that people may have been being paid to go around and collect signs. One of the signs she collected was from Pasadena, saying “Pasadena Democrats for Biden-Harris,” which she feels provides strong evidence that this occurrence wasn’t committed by local kids.
Like the Leffermans, the Kogans had also experienced vandalism themselves; a Biden-Harris sign was thrown into the trash on a Shabbat and later tossed into a neighbor’s yard undergoing construction. The last four signs left on her lawn after neighbors had collected theirs were removed again, along with a sign she put out describing the event.
Ms. Kogan felt violated about what happened on Shabbat, she said, and is sad the neighborhood is so divided. She’d like to encourage unity, tolerance and neighbors listening to one another.
“Especially living in a very Jewish neighborhood, when vandalism happens like this, it always comes back to, ‘okay, who’s going to put a swastika on this next,’” she said. “That was my big fear. I’m very nervous about that, because any time there is contentiousness in our country and heated things, it always comes back to the Jews.”
Amanda wants to encourage unity and tolerance within the community and believes that people must learn to listen and respect each other, regardless of any person’s beliefs.
Since the first theft, Ms. Kogan and Ms. Lefferman have added to their collection of political yard signs, although the Leffermans now take theirs inside in the evenings to prevent any additional theft. To Ms. Lefferman, this election is more important than any election she’s ever
experienced, because she believes it will determine whether someone will unite the nation or continue to divide it.
For now, she is upset and discouraged by the theft of her sign and the actions of people in her own community.
“Just disappointed for the state of affairs, really,” Ms. Lefferman said. “Of the world we live in where people feel like people aren’t entitled to their preference and that they would have the audacity to come onto someone’s property and steal their sign.”
Election Day is Nov. 3.
Benjamin Gamson, Molly Litvak and Olivia Fishman contributed to this story.
This story was originally published on The Boiling Point on November 4, 2020.