Monsey, N.Y., is 1,200 miles from Minneapolis. But for many in the Twin Cities Jewish community, last weekend’s machete attack during a Hanukkah celebration there hit close to home.
“Everyone in the Jewish community is very closely linked,” said Rabbi Joshua Bornstein, who got married near the scene of the stabbing, which left five injured. “This isn’t an abstract place in an abstract neighborhood that no one has heard of. Everyone here has been there, has a close friend there.”
The violent episode in Monsey, which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called “an act of domestic terrorism,” is the latest in a pattern of assaults targeting Jewish people around the country in the past year and a half. For faith leaders, these incidents have brought to the forefront new questions about safety.
“Every center of Jewish life has to take a serious look at existing security measures and decide what’s the right approach,” said Max Davis, rabbi of Darchei Noam in St. Louis Park.
Steve Hunegs, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said his organization hired a full-time security director in 2018 to help safeguard gathering places, provide training and raise awareness of potential threats. The council also helps places of worship apply for grants for physical and technological security administered through the state Legislature and federal government.
Many Jewish leaders also work with Homeland Security, the FBI and local police to help keep their institutions safe. Some would not talk security specifics for this article, fearing doing so would make their place of worship a target.
In 2018, the Anti-Defamation League counted 1,879 acts of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the United States, including 28 in Minnesota. Among the national incidents was the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 dead and six injured. The 2019 numbers have not been tallied, but attacks on Jewish gatherings include a synagogue shooting in Jersey City, N.J., last month, and a gunman firing inside a synagogue in Poway, Calif., in April.
There have also been untold incidents of harassment of Jewish people and anti-Semitic graffiti that keep people on high alert, said Rabbi Avi S. Olitzky of Beth El Synagogue.
“The conversation is now elevated, that this is no longer an anomaly. This is no longer an aberration. We’re seeing a period of time where anti-Semitism is prevalent all around,” said Olitzky.
“We need to discuss as a community, and work with our partners beyond the community, what we need to do to address it. I believe first and foremost it’s speaking out loudly, proudly and boldly.”
Carin Mrotz, executive director of progressive Jewish Community Action, said many in the community have expressed concerns lately over safety. “I’m hearing a lot of parents wondering if it is safe to put a menorah in the window during Hannukah.”
Yet striking the right balance is difficult. More security doesn’t necessarily translate to a greater feeling of safety — and for some, such as Jewish people of color leery of police violence, it can have the opposite effect, said Mrotz.
“This is I think the next frontier of what the Jewish community needs to wrestle with, which is, how do we get safe without creating situations that feel unsafe for some of us in the community?”
Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, of Minneapolis’ Temple Israel, also emphasized the importance of maintaining a welcoming environment.
“We have very obvious security, but we also have security that you wouldn’t know is there,” she said. “That is always sort of the balance, so we don’t feel like we are at all blocking people from coming in ... unless they’re going to hurt us. Then we do.”
Zimmerman said security is only part of how Jews should respond to attacks like the one in Monsey. “The other way is Jewish pride, feeling strongly connected to the Jewish community, not hiding one’s Judaism.”
After the Tree of Life attack, Zimmerman said she started wearing a kippot, a head garment traditionally worn by Jewish men, to express her Jewish pride. “People might say, ‘Aren’t you worried?’ Well, I can’t live in fear.”