A St. Louis Park synagogue closed its preschool and called off an in-person Sabbath service Friday evening after receiving a threat of possible violence targeting worshipers whose faith is in the midst of the Jewish High Holy Days.
Members of the temple just off Hwy. 100 near W. 26th Street were told that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) regional office in Chicago "received a specific threat of physical violence via its website directed at a 'Beth El Synagogue,' " synagogue managing director Matt Walzer wrote in a notice to members.
All Beth El facilities in the region were notified, Walzer continued, but added, "There were indications that the threat may have come from the Twin Cities area. St. Louis Park was also referenced by name."
The decisions to cancel preschool Friday and to shift in-person Sabbath services online were made "out of an abundance of caution," Walzer's notice explained.
St. Louis Park police said in a statement Friday afternoon that they were notified about 9:15 p.m. Thursday about a "threat of violence received on an online messaging platform" targeting the synagogue.
"The as-yet-unidentified sender of the message indicated people could be harmed at a religious service" that had been scheduled for Friday evening, the statement continued.
Police said they continue to pursue the source of the message and are staying alert to any suspicious activity connected to the threat.
Hate crimes in the United States have risen to their highest level in more than a decade as federal officials also have recorded the highest number of hate-motivated killings since the FBI began collecting that data in the early 1990s, according to the latest annual report from the FBI.
In an annual data release in November, the FBI said there were 7,314 hate crimes in 2019, up from 7,120 the year before — and approaching a high-water mark of 7,783 in 2008. The annual report defines hate crimes as those motivated by bias based on a person's race, religion or sexual orientation, among other categories.
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said earlier this year that from 1994 to 2020, there were nearly 900 domestic anti-Semitic and racially motivated attacks in the nation. Among those fueled by racial and religious hatred were deadly assaults on a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a church in Charlotte, N.C.
Beth El's Walzer said synagogue representatives have been in close communication with local and federal law enforcement, "and they are actively investigating" in collaboration with the ADL in Chicago and the regional JCRC.
The threat comes amid the Jewish High Holy Days. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, was celebrated from sundown Monday until nightfall Wednesday. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins Wednesday evening and ends the following evening.
In a message Friday afternoon on Twitter, Gov. Tim Walz said, "My heart is with our Jewish community today. The Jewish New Year is a solemn time of reflection, forgiveness, and prayer. Horrific for this community to be forced to spend this time apart — this type of hate and division has no place here."
St. Louis Park police said anyone who might have information about this case should call them at 952-924-2600.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482