Mast to Gardens synagogue: Be prepared to defend yourself and the ones you love – Palm Beach Post

Posted By on December 31, 2019

On the last day of Hanukkah, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, was one of the guest speakers at the Chabad Jewish center in Palm Beach Gardens.

The note affixed to the door at the Chabad Jewish center in Palm Beach Gardens warns those who wish to enter that All bags, vehicles and persons may be subject to search Photo IDs may be required. Armed security man the doors. And Rabbi Dovid Vigler assures that the center spends many, many thousands of dollars on security a topic so sensitive, he declines to detail it further.

But after a weekend in which a machete-wielding man felled five Hasidic Jews in New York and a gunman opened fire in a Texas Church of Christ, killing two, the leaders at the synagogue say they wanted to hear from and be heard by their elected and government officials

On the last day of Hanukkah, a holiday intended to celebrate the miracle of enduring light over the darkness of oppressors, the guest list at the synagogue just west of Floridas Turnpike included U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, the local assistant police chief, Marty Bechtel, and Gardens Councilman Matthew Lane.

One takeaway Mast and several around him took from the weekends violence the targets fought back, no doubt saving lives. Indeed, the Texas shooter was himself shot dead within seconds by a member of that churchs volunteer security team.

I always said on the battlefield I wasnt going to die for lack of shooting back, Army veteran Mast told the crowd.

Are you saying worshippers should be shooting back? questioned the audience.

Absolutely, Mast said.

Theres always been a need to guard places of worship. Jews have had to defend themselves in the face of evil for thousands of years, Mast said. Train. Go out and train. Be prepared to defend yourself and the ones you love.

Police cant be everywhere, Mast said. He told his audience he is comforted knowing that security teams are in place at Christ Fellowship Church where he worships.

The local police also are playing an integral security role in places of worship, said Bechtel.

The citys department works with congregations to keep accurate building schematics on hand and coordinate active shooter training.

Instances of anti-Semitic acts are on the rise nationally, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which counted 1,879 such incidents, including more than 1,000 involving harassment, in 2018. The organization has yet to tally figures for 2019, but it estimates the numbers will meet or exceed last years.

The uptick in violence is particularly palpable in New York City, where anti-Semitic crimes have jumped 21 percent in the past year, The New York Times reported. Across the state, anti-Semitic incidents from harassment to murder have totaled in the 300s this year and last, according to ADL tracking.

In Florida, the numbers including harassment, vandalism and assault have been trending higher in the past seven or eight years, but peaked at 137 in 2016 and then dropped into double digits in 2017 and 2018, according to the last annual report issued in May.

Most of those incidents happened in South Florida, including several in Palm Beach County. The local offenses, none involving violence, included unwelcome email screeds to a Jewish organizations general inbox, a swastika etched on a home doorpost, a defaced sign at a synagogue and a middle school girl on the receiving end of an anti-Semitic text from a classmate.

But by the time incidents rise to the level of a police or media report, its gone too far, said Lonnie Wilk, director of ADL Florida.

In most cases perpetrators dont start at the point of violence, Wilk said. That has to be cultivated or learned. And it begins with acts of bias, jokes, rumors or stereotypes. When that goes unchecked it can easily elevate to bullying and slurs.

Hate can become normalized, Wilk said. To get to the base of the problem, the ADL advocates for anti-bias training in schools, where students learn what Wilk and the ADL refers to as the pyramid of hate.

At least one congregant at Mondays gathering stood to ask Mast how he could support President Donald Trump, whom she described as the most hateful president weve ever had.

But before she could finish her question, her voice was lost in a sea of boos and met with a chorus of retorts including, This is not a political forum. This is the wrong place. And Run for Congress.

Take your hate somewhere else. Shame on you. And Write a letter.

After the room was hushed, Mast said, I do support our president. He doesnt hate somebody for being Muslim or of color or being Jewish or any other thing. The policies he undertakes are policies to make sure we have a safe nation.

sisger@pbpost.com

@sonjaisger

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Mast to Gardens synagogue: Be prepared to defend yourself and the ones you love - Palm Beach Post

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