Editorial: Do our synagogues now need full-time security?

The recent machete attack on Hasidic Jews at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, N.Y., was another reminder of the remarkably ugly times we are living in and yet another domestic terror attack in our country.

Earlier this month, two people attacked a kosher market in Jersey City, killing three. And in October of last year, a rabid anti-Semite bent on murder shot his way into the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh during services, killing 11 and wounding six.

The Monsey attack stunned Rabbi Gadi Capela of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport and Rabbi Michael Rascoe of Temple Israel in Riverhead, but neither was surprised. Violent attacks on Jews have sharply increased in America, as they have in Europe. The Unite the Right march in Virginia in 2017 featured people shouting “The Jews will not replace us” and carrying Nazi flags and torches. Rabbi Rascoe had a personal connection to Tree of Life: He was born and raised in Pittsburgh and his parents were married in that temple.

“Attacks on Jews are getting very common these days,” said Rabbi Rascoe. “And I am of an age where I didn’t think I would ever see violence like this. This isn’t to say I have not experienced anti-Semitism. When I was younger people would say things, but nobody was attacked. This is all new and extremely troubling.”

In Greenport, Rabbi Capela said he and his congregation must now have a conversation about security. “I was with my congregation when I heard about the Monsey attack,” he said. “I watched it on the evening news. This was an escalation since the attacker went into a private home. It’s one thing to secure houses of worship; it’s another thing to secure every Jewish home and every rabbi’s home.”

In both Riverhead and Southold, town police have reached out to the temples to reassure the rabbis they are there to help and offer added protection. Police in Riverhead will increase patrols around Temple Israel, particularly during services, Rabbi Rascoe said; Southold’s chief, Martin Flatley, said in an email “we step up our patrols of our two houses of worship during these periods.

“Yes, this year is dramatically different with the most recent acts of violence against the Jewish community and we remind our officers of their responsibilities for securing these locations…” he added.

The sight of a police car sitting in the parking lot of a North Fork synagogue will become normal. Both rabbis made the point that their neighbors must also help out. “I would be encouraging our neighbors to be vigilant about this,” said Rabbi Capela. “If we learn from history, we know some Germans did not want to give up their Jews.

“But America has to answer some questions: Do we agree with this rhetoric and name calling? Or are these people on the fringes? We can’t slide any farther back. This has to stop,” he said.