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Damage at K’hal Adath Jeshurun in Paramus Jewish Standard Staff

A third attack on a Bergen County synagogue within a month is leading the Anti-Defamation League to call on area synagogues to implement security plans and install security cameras.

On Tuesday morning, worshipers at K’hal Adath Jeshurun in Paramus smelled fumes and discovered that the back wall of their synagogue had been charred by a fire, in what the Bergen County prosecutor’s office and Paramus police have ruled to be arson.

“We’ll probably have more surveillance cameras installed,” said Rabbi Chaim Shapiro, spiritual leader of the 25-family synagogue. The attack, however, “will have absolutely no impact on the programs or activities of the shul,” he said.

His synagogue is located about four miles north of the synagogues in Maywood and Hackensack that were vandalized with swastikas and hate slogans last month.

The arson in Paramus, however, “does not appear to be connected to the Hackensack and Maywood incidents,” said Maureen Parenta, public information officer of the Bergen Prosecutor’s office.

“We have not ruled out copycat issues based on what occurred in New York,” she said, referring to a New Year’s Day spree of Molotov cocktail attacks in Queens and Long Island whose targets included sites of Muslim and Hindu worship. On Tuesday, a suspect was taken into custody for those attacks, which are now being attributed to revenge for personal slights rather than religious hatred.

Parenta added that the Paramus arson “could also be local vandals and misguided juveniles.”

“We are hopeful to be finding the actors in this matter,” she said.

Investigations into the vandalism in Hackensack and Maywood are also ongoing, she said, with local law enforcement agencies cooperating and sharing information.

Yet Etzion Neuer, director for community service and policy of the ADL and former director of its New Jersey office, said he “can’t help” but put the latest attack into the context of the earlier vandalism.

The ADL offered a $1,000 reward for helping solve the vandalism attacks.

“The two previous incidents were already a cause of great concern, but in this case we have a rise in the level of criminal activity from vandalism to attempted arson,” he said.

“We’re lucky that nobody was hurt and that the damage was limited. But I think the community needs to take some lessons there,” he said. “If nothing else, these events should be a clarion call for Jewish institutions to revisit whatever security plans they have in place and if they don’t have any plans, to begin planning.”

Neuer said that law enforcement officials had expressed frustration that none of the three synagogues which were attacked had security cameras.

“When these incidents occur, we can see why security cameras are so helpful,” he said, noting that the suspect in the Queens attacks was arrested in part based on evidence collected by security cameras.

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the Synagogoue Leadership Initiative have called a meeting for next Thursday evening to discuss synagogue security, in conjunction with Orthodox Rabbinical Council of Bergen County and the separate Northern New Jersey Board of Rabbis.

Law enforcement officials will be participating, as will the ADL.

Neuer said that while caution is sometimes appropriate, in this case “people need to be alarmed. People should ask the executive director of their synagogue or the rabbi or the president, ‘What are we dong to ensure our institution is safe and what can I do to help that?'”

ADL has prepared a guide for synagogue security planning, which can be found at http://bit.ly/js-adl.

Meanwhile, the Bergen County Council of Churches has called on area churches to make mention of the synagogue attacks on Sunday morning, and to offer prayers for the Jewish community.

“We should also pray for the courage, that all Christians stand up for tolerance, acceptance, and justice for all faith communities,” wrote Rev. Donald M. Pitches, the council’s president, in an e-mail to members.