Nassau leaders call for action to educate public after synagogue attack

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Nassau leaders call for action to educate public after synagogue attack
Rabbi Daniel Schweber of Temple Israel lights candles to honor the 11 people killed in the Tree of Life Congregation shooting. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

More must be done to combat anti-Semitism, local Jewish leaders said Monday, following a Passover shooting at a California synagogue that has stoked fear and anxiety to a near fever pitch.

A shooter opened fire on worshipers during a Passover service at Chabad of Poway synagogue Saturday in San Diego with what appeared to be an AR-15 rifle, according to police, killing one person and injuring three others.

Lori Kaye, 60, died after shielding Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was shot in both hands, from gunfire unleashed by a 19-year-old suspect who is in custody, CNN reported.

The attack occurred exactly six months after a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a gunman killed 11 people in the deadliest attack against Jewish people in U.S. history.

“The shooting in a synagogue in Poway, Calif., resulting in a tragic death and several serious injuries, coming so soon after the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, raises and fears and anxieties not seen since the Holocaust,” Steve Markowitz, the president of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, said.

Markowitz also said it underscores the need for institutions to “redouble” efforts to educate people “on the history and lessons of the Holocaust and the clear dangers of anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance today.”

Rabbi Michael Klayman, the president of the Great Neck Clergy Association and senior rabbi at Lake Success Jewish Center, also said that educating people to be more tolerant, open and respectful is critical.

“Sadly it’s still a necessary goal, but we’re going to persevere until we reach every person who is intolerant and inflexible,” Klayman said. “I’m going to do my share, even if it’s one by one.”

Klayman also said an attack on the Chabad synagogue – or any religious institution – is an attack on everyone.

“An attack on any synagogue is an attack on me, an attack on my faith, an attack on my synagogue,” Klayman said. “Whatever our philosophical or theological differences with Chabad, they know the way when it comes to standing in solidarity at this moment.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said the assault on the congregation was “an attack on the entire Jewish community” and called on officials and business leaders to “stand united against hate and address it.”

“This shooting is a reminder of the reality and virulence of anti-Semitism,” Greenblatt said. “It must serve as a call to action for us as a society to deal once and for all with hate. Jewish people and those of all faiths should not have to live in fear of going to their house of worship.”

Rabbi Todd Chizner of Temple Judea in Manhasset said the idea of houses of worship no longer being safe in wake of this attack, the mosque shooting in New Zealand and the church bombings in Sri Lanka, is one that has weighed heavily on him.

“I think it really has hit me hard over this past year the idea that the place we should be truly in sanctuary, in safety and peace, is the place where people are being attacked,” Chizner said. “It really is unfortunate that this is the world that we are living in right now.”

Chizner said that his synagogue has taken on an array of new safety measures since then, ranging from locked doors to being in touch with law enforcement officials. He also said that “we need to live our lives,” “do all the good that we can do,” and emphasized the importance of forging connections.

“This is where my heart and soul is,” Chizner said. “I’d rather encourage people to make connections with the community and people of other faiths and feel a sense that we’re all working together.”

Temple Sinai of Roslyn Rabbi Michael White said his temple leadership’s decision to “dramatically increase” its security measures at the temple was both “wise and necessary.”

But it is also necessary, White said, not to allow “the purveyors of bigotry and anti-Semitism” to “retreat into our tribes and turn against each other.”

“…We must not allow our fears to paralyze us or to draw us away from our Jewish faith,” White said. “Come to Temple for prayer, for learning and for fellowship. We will defy hatred and demagoguery with a reaffirmation of our commitments to Jewish life, to each other, and to the Jewish future.”

Nassau County Police Department officials said that while there are no known imminent threats in the area, police are “working closely with federal, state and local partners” and have “intensified patrols around all religious institutions in an abundance of caution.”

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