Recent attacks force Burlington County Jewish communities to react to rise in anti-Semitism – Burlington County Times

Posted By on January 3, 2020

Since the Tree of Life shooting, many synagogues in the area began implementing more security measures, consulting with local law enforcement and private security consultants. Many have guards, some that are armed, during services. Often, there is a police presence as well.

Just before 10:30 a.m. Monday, Rabbi Nathan Weiner sent an email to his entire congregation with a subject line that read, "Physical and Emotional Safety at CBT."

"Chanukah is a holiday about the fight for religious freedom. Jews everywhere publicize our freedom to be Jews in public by placing a Menorah in the window. Jews who display outward signs of Jewish identity have been under attack this Chanukah," Weiners message to Congregation Beth Tikvah in Evesham began.

The email was a response to another violent attack targeting the Jewish community, this time in Monsey, New York, a Hasidic community just outside New York City. Five were stabbed when a man burst into the home of a rabbi, who was hosting a celebration on the last night of Hannukah, wielding a machete. The man, Grafton Thomas, has since been charged with federal hate crimes.

"This was the one of many incidents of Jew Hatred in the New York City area throughout Chanukah. As 2019 comes to a close, we acknowledge it as a year filled with rising anti-Jewish sentiment. This has many of us feeling outraged, scared, heartbroken and unsure how to combat the rising tide of hatred," Weiners email continued.

His sentiment is shared by rabbis and Jewish communities across Burlington County, who now face a reality many said they never imagined they would be forced to confront that there is a very real threat of physical violence for openly practicing their faith.

And while attacks like the one in Monsey, the fatal one in Jersey City a few weeks ago and the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, when 11 worshipers were gunned down, have forced the countys Jewish congregations to implement more security at their synagogues during Shabbat and other worship services, they have also strengthened the communitys pride in their faith.

Since the Tree of Life shooting, many synagogues in the area have implemented more security measures, working with local law enforcement and private security consultants. Many have guards, some that are armed, during services. Often, there is a police presence.

More recently, however, some have even resorted to locking the synagogues doors during services.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Weiner said the leadership at Congregation Beth Tikvah were having serious discussions about whether to lock their synagogue doors, an idea that has come up before but one they have resisted.

Locking the doors would either require training of volunteers, paying a professional or implementing a card-swipe entry system, costs that could burden the congregation. Not to mention the effect of having to use a key card or an ID to enter into a house of worship.

"Were all very resistant to making these changes because we want to be a place that is open for spiritual seekers and open to those who want to be in community with us," Weiner said. "We can never eliminate risk, but we can do our best to minimize exposure to risk. We can do our best to make people feel as though they are in a safe environment.

"But what weve been doing the status quo cant continue."

Temple Sinai in Cinnaminson began locking its doors during services after the Tree of Life shooting. Now, there are people at the door checking worshipers in, and during larger events, the synagogue has armed security guards.

"Its a double-edged sword. On the one hand, part of coming to synagogue feeling at home, and comfortable, and safe. But how do you feel at home and welcomed when you have to be checked-in or use a key badge?" said Temple Sinai Rabbi Boaz Marmon.

If there is a lesson to be taken from these recent attacks, Marmon said, its that they can happen where you least expect them. While big-city synagogues may have their own concerns, smaller places of worship with little means can be easy targets.

"Its a sad way for American Jews to be thinking," Marmon said, noting that for his and most American Jews lifetime anti-Semitism was not something to be concerned about, unlike in some other places in the world.

"Its a very difficult adjustment to think I am in danger here because I am Jewish," Marmon said.

Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel also uses armed guards during its worship services and has worked with security consultants to help beef up its security in light of the recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks.

"I think there is a very real level of fear, a level of fear that many of us have not felt in our lifetime," said Adath Emanu-El Rabbi Ben David.

In Burlington County there have been some isolated incidents of anti-Semitism, such as the spread of anti-Semitic fliers in Evesham parking lot this past October.

Adath Emanu-El, like other synagogues in Burlington County, has a close relationship with the local police department.

Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said many county departments, as well as his office, are in regular contact with synagogues after attacks like Monsey and will often beef up patrols.

In September, the prosecutors office hosted a security briefing and training session run by the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security for all faith leaders in the county. County law enforcement has also provided security assessments for local places of worship.

"If there is one place besides your home you should feel safe its in a house of worship," Coffina said.

Weiner said the Evesham Police Department is very proactive in its support of Congregation Beth Tikvah, and had already reached out to the rabbi on Monday to inform him they will be increasing patrols around the synagogue.

"In Evesham, we go out of our way to make sure we have each others backs and to do the real heavy work of deepening the fabric of the community," Weiner said.

Marmon said Cinnaminson police have provided active shooter training to his congregation, as well as often providing an active presence at the synagogue.

"We have a warm relationship with the Cinnaminson police," he said. "Theyre very supportive and were very appreciative of that."

Synagogues have also received support from their community in the wake of the recent anti-Semitic attacks.

In Mount Holly, Brandy Fishman, owner of Breaking Ground Coffee, is hoping to gather friends and employees of the inclusive coffee shop to attend a Shabbat service at Temple Har Zion in the coming days to offer support and solidarity.

"We have a lot of compassion for what the Jewish community is facing right now," Fishman said.

"When small groups of people are targeted in hate crimes, really important to reach out to the community to be attacked for religious beliefs, especially in this country is truly horrific."

Gestures like that are what the leadership at Temple Har Zion prefers to focus on in these challenging times.

"Were looking at the positive, the outpouring of support from the local community," said Darcy Grabenstein, Temple Har Zion board of trustees member. "Were focusing on the good in people and not the bad."

The recent attacks have also not shaken the Jewish communitys faith. In fact, for many of the rabbis, its times like these when its critical to let their congregations know one should be proud to be a member of the Jewish faith.

"Im proud to be a Jew," David said. "I encourage kids, families and the community to do the same not to cower, not to hide."

"During Hannukah, we place a menorah in window to announce to the world that we are Jews and our faith is real," David continued. "That our sense of resilience is real, our sense of moral courage is real and were not going to hide or be ashamed."

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Recent attacks force Burlington County Jewish communities to react to rise in anti-Semitism - Burlington County Times

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