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Local leaders rally behind community
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Local leaders rally behind community

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Local political, religious, and community leaders rallied after a rabbi’s Rutherford home and synagogue was firebombed in the most violent of a series of recent attacks on Bergen County synagogues.

Unharmed synagogues sent messages regarding the state of their security measures, politicians released statements of solidarity with the Jewish community, and police departments increased visibility around Jewish institutions.

Area rabbis expressed everything from concern for the family of Rabbi Nosson Schuman, whose hand was burned in the Jan. 11 attack, to confidence about their own security.

“Of course we are concerned and are trying to be patiently watchful,” said Rabbi David Greenstein of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair. “We are pained for the victims of these violent acts, especially Rabbi Schuman, who suffered personal injury. Thank God the damage has not been more serious.”

Rabbi Ben Goldstein of Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford said his synagogue’s security system was recently upgraded.

“With our new security measures, no one can get into the building without being buzzed in,” he said. “We feel that our congregants are safer than they have ever been in our building.”

At least two area congregations, Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David, an Orthodox synagogue in West Orange, and Congregation Beth El, a Conservative synagogue in South Orange, sent mass e-mail messages meant to reassure their members.

“Although we do not believe our Shabbat security teams need to be enhanced, we do recommend an increased vigilance on the part of the entire congregation,” read the message from AABJ&D. It continued, “If anything seems odd/out of the ordinary or suspicious, please do not hesitate to call it in to the police and the security teams on hand.”

Beth El’s letter included some common-sense tips from the local police department, such as “Make sure doors and windows are locked before securing the building,” and “When possible, restrict entrance into your building to a single door that requires someone to be granted access.”

Like Beth El’s leaders, Rabbi Mark Biller of Congregation Adath Shalom of Morris Plains said the local police department was increasing patrols around area synagogues.

Such patrols were urged by Etzion Neuer, acting NJ director of the Anti-Defamation League, which has offered a $7,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the crimes.

Earlier incidents included vandalism last month at synagogues in Maywood and Hackensack, and a small fire set at Congregation K’hal Adath Jeshurun in Paramus on Jan. 3.

“After this horrific attack in Rutherford and other synagogue attacks in Bergen County, we are urging law enforcement to increase patrols and security near synagogues and Jewish community buildings in northern New Jersey,” he said.

He also urged Jewish community institutions “to consider adding cameras and other preventative security measures that can help deter acts of vandalism or other attacks.”

In their statements, local politicians condemned the attacks, and called for action.

Gov. Chris Christie (R) condemned the attacks and asked State Police, the Attorney General’s Office, and Homeland Security to discuss security issues with Jewish leaders.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting an investigation into the incident. “I am horrified by the numerous and increasingly violent anti-Semitic attacks that have recently been committed against the Jewish community in New Jersey, and I have supported the efforts of local law enforcement to stop them,” he wrote.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D) called the attacks “despicable” and said they require immediate action from local, state, and federal authorities.

Neuer described an “outpouring of concern” from people around the country.

“We have heard from several individuals from as far away as Louisiana who have read about the attacks and called to offer their sympathy and support,” he said.

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