|Attacks on Jews in New Jersey raise anxiety|
|By Jessica Leader|
|Friday, 20 January 2012 01:51|
| Increased security is now the norm |
NEW YORK (JTA) – As Jews in some northern New Jersey communities made their way to synagogue last Shabbat, the scene was slightly different from the typical day of rest.
Extra police cars were on patrol near synagogues. At Bnei Yeshurun in Teaneck, a new buzzer system had been installed. And at Ahavath Torah in Englewood, security guards stood sentry.
The heightened caution comes after a month of increasingly worrisome attacks against synagogues in Bergen County, an affluent part of New York City’s suburbs with a sizable Jewish population.
“There was a profound sense of unease this past Shabbat in Bergen County,” said Etzion Neuer, acting regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) New Jersey branch. “It’s anecdotal, but … there is a strong sense of unease and real anxiety over what’s happened lately.”
What’s happened is a string of attacks against Jewish institutions. The attacks began on Dec. 10, when the exterior of Temple Beth Israel in Maywood was spray-painted with swastikas and the phrase “Jews did 9/11.” Eleven days later, Temple Beth El in Hackensack was defaced with graffiti.
On Jan. 3, an arsonist targeted Congregation K’Hal Adath Jeshurun in Paramus, and on Jan. 11, five Molotov cocktails were thrown through the window of a synagogue and rabbi’s residence in Rutherford, burning the rabbi’s hands and forcing his family to flee from the building.
“As I was trying to smother the flames on the windowsill, I saw another incendiary on the roof,” Rabbi Nosson
The attacks come as another New York-area neighborhood, the heavily Jewish Midwood section of Brooklyn, saw a spate of incidents in recent months, including torching parked vehicles, threatening phone calls and swastikas. On Monday, police arrested a New York City Jewish man suspected in those attacks, raising the specter that anti-Semitism was not the motive.
In New Jersey, no arrests have been made in the attacks, which have undermined the sense of security of one of the country’s largest and most established Jewish communities. ADL tripled its original offer for information leading to the arrest of the Rutherford perpetrator, to $7,500, after community members contributed.
“Leaders… are privately concerned about their communities,” Neuer said. “Anxiety is not inherently healthy, but it is natural. We would like leaders to channel that anxiety into better security policies.”
In an effort to do that, law enforcement officials met last week with representatives of more than 80 Jewish institutions to discuss security measures for synagogues and schools.
“This is a new type of training for us,” said Ruth Gafni, principal of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County. “We have lived in such a peaceful way so far and we’ve been blessed to feel secure. This attack has changed the playing field.”
Also over the past week, more than a dozen Jewish institutions have reached out for help to the Community Security Service, a nonprofit organization that provides training and services that aim to help tighten security at Jewish facilities.
Joshua Glice, director of synagogue and school operations for the service, told JTA that he had conducted risk assessment studies this week for rabbis at their homes.The Rutherford incident, which was the first anti-Jewish attack to result in injury, raised the most concern.
At 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 11, Rabbi Schuman was awakened by the sound of the Molotov cocktails entering his home, which is attached to the synagogue he leads. His family escaped without injury, but the rabbi endured burns to his hands. Bergen County’s prosecutor, John Molinelli, said he will charge the perpetrator with attempted murder, according to The Record newspaper.
“Someone was clearly trying to kill [us],” Rabbi Schuman said, “not just damage the synagogue.”
According to the ADL, New Jersey typically reports one of the higher totals for anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, owing largely to its sizable and visible Jewish population.
The ADL’s 2010 national audit of anti-Semitic incidents reported 130 incidents statewide, placing New Jersey third after California and New York. The figure was 132 the previous year. Most incidents in the ADL survey are acts of harassment or vandalism; only a tiny minority are acts of physical violence.
According to New Jersey State Police, Jews are the religious group most frequently victimized by bias crimes, accounting for 34 percent of the total in 2010.
“These crimes are more serious than previous ones,” Neuer said. “Four incidents in such a short period of time… suggest something more significant in play here.”
Police as of Tuesday had not decided whether to treat the incidents as the work of a single perpetrator. A Hackensack police spokesman told JTA that the attacks there and in Maywood are being treated as related incidents. The other two, he said, have no definitive connection.
Community leaders are more inclined to view the incidents as part of a single phenomenon, though they are hesitant to speculate on what lies behind the recent spate. Anti-Semitic incidents occasionally spike in reaction to rising tensions in the Middle East.
“I think that if there’s division amongst the Jewish people it shows weakness, and that’s when [anti-Semites] attack,” Rabbi Schuman said. “We have to work on Jewish unity.”
Unity among all faiths is possible, he said. At a Saturday night interfaith event, more than 250 people of diverse religions attended.
“People have sent e-mails, given donations and brought food,” Rabbi Schuman said. “We had a special kiddush. So many people came over with food that we had to share it with the community.”
In a phone call to Rabbi Schuman, The Voice & Herald learned that a website has been established to donate funds to purchase a security system. It is www.donatebethel.com.
Marty Cooper, Alliance Community Relations Council director, reminds synagogues and other Jewish entities to remain vigilant. Individuals who observe something troubling or suspicious should first call 911 and then Cooper at 421-4111, ext. 171.