As Jews around the world gathered in synagogues last Friday night to mark the start of Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement — someone was apparently busy fashioning a massive swastika into several acres of a cornfield in Washington Township, N.J.

The swastika was spotted by a New Jersey State Police helicopter during a routine maintenance mission.

Local residents told the Star Ledger newspaper of Newark, N.J., that they were unaware of the reviled symbol of hate.

Click here to read full story in the Star-Ledger.

"I saw helicopters, and they were circling," Debbie Tamasi told the newspaper. "I had no idea."

The Anti-Defamation League said the swastika "shows the persistence of anti-Semitism and hate."

"At a time when Jews around the world and in New Jersey are celebrating the High Holidays, we are confronted with this ugly symbol of hatred against Jews," the organization's New Jersey regional director, Etzion Neuer, told the newspaper. "Obviously, those responsible for this act were determined to deliver a message of hate on a massive scale.

Washington Township Police Chief Martin Masseroni said his department is investigating.

"We're doing everything we can to see if we can find out who did this," he said.

The attention directed to the site by news helicopters, however, may have led people to trample evidence, which could hamper their investigation, Masseroni said.

The Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, the state Division of Criminal Justice and the State Police aviation unit also are investigating.

Another swastika — this one estimated to be 130 square feet— was carved in the field in July 1998, and a bigger 600-by-600 foot version of the Nazi symbol was found in a nearby cornfield almost a year later, the newspaper reported. No arrests were made in either incident.

Police said the current symbol appears to have been hand-cut.

Township resident Edwin Diefenbach, who cuts and sells corn stalks as decorative items, told the newspaper doing so would not be difficult.

"It's all according to what kind of knife or sickle they use," he said. "It's not hard to cut the corn."