A swastika banner flown over South Shore beaches on Saturday by a group claiming it wants to rehabilitate the symbol has sparked outrage.
A small plane pulled the banner that depicted a swastika inside a Jewish Star of David, as well as symbols of peace and love across a cloudless blue sky, just as it did a year earlier, in what a religious group called the Raelians branded the sixth annual Swastika Rehabilitation Day.
The swastika was adopted by Nazi Germany, which killed 6 million Jews during World War II. The Raelians, who also seek to build an embassy for alien visitors, say on their website the group wants to reclaim an ancient religious symbol.
But Rabbi Leslie Schotz, of the Bay Shore Jewish Center, said that regardless of the group's intentions, "the action itself is offensive."
The symbol remains "very raw and painful," she said, especially for those who like her who grew up with Holocaust survivors in her family and face Holocaust deniers.
Schotz, who last year authored a letter to the editor in Newsday criticizing the group's actions, said the removal last week of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State Capitol showed how potent -- and painful -- symbols can be.
"There needs to be some sort of compassion and a realization that people are still trying to heal from this horrible occurrence that is really one of the low points in humanity," Schotz said.
Thomas Kaenzig, a religious guide for the Raelians and president of the ProSwastika Alliance in Las Vegas, said in an interview the group flew or displayed the swastika Saturday in several U.S. cities, including Chicago.
The Star of David with a swastika in the middle has been the Raelian symbol since its founder met with "people from another planet" who wore the symbol on their clothing in an "encounter" in 1973, Kaenzig said.
Asked about the offense the symbol caused, he said it was an issue of religious freedom and showed the need to reclaim its history.
"If people feel offended by me displaying my religious symbol, then I feel offended," he said. He added, "Hitler stole a beautiful symbol, so that's why it's so important to rehabilitate this symbol."