New York-area Jewish community centers moved swiftly Tuesday to increase security in response to the day’s shooting rampage at North Valley Jewish Community Center in the Los Angeles area.
One Jewish leader declared the incident — the third attack on Jews and Jewish property in the United States in the last two months — to be part of a frightening trend.
“It’s starting to become a pattern,” declared Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, referring to the June torching of three Sacramento synagogues and the July shooting of Orthodox Jews in Chicago.
“All of a sudden there’s an explosion … that’s cause for concern,” he said shortly after the attack, citing the Internet, the glorification of violence in society, the accessibility of guns and hate as the ingredients responsible for the incidents, even as crime levels have dropped across the nation.
The president of the American Jewish Committee, Los Angeles attorney Bruce Ramer, said: “A Jewish building, especially one filled with children enjoying summer camp, is not a random target.”
Five people were wounded in the shootings in the residential Granada Hills section, the most serious being a 5-year-old boy who was operated on for six hours. Also injured were two 6-year old boys, a 16-year-old girl and a 68-year-old receptionist.
Los Angeles police and federal agents had conducted a two-state manhunt for the alleged gunman, 37-year-old Buford O’Neal Furrow, before he surrendered to Las Vegas police Wednesday morning.
Furrow, a resident of Washington state with a long criminal history, unloaded a hail of bullets from an assault weapon into the lobby of the suburban Jewish center at 10:49 a.m. Some two dozen children were attending day camp at the site — two other classes were touring the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance.
Police found a red van, apparently abandoned by Furrow, filled with firearms and ammunition, survivalist gear, an Army Ranger Handbook and pamphlets associated with the Christian Identity movement, an extremist white supremacist, anti-Semitic sect.
The Spokesman-Review newspaper of Spokane, Wash., said Furrow had a relationship with Debbie Matthews, widow of Robert J. Matthews, founder of the hate group called the Order. Mathews was killed in 1984 when his hideout caught fire during a shootout with federal agents.
After Robert Mathews’ death, Order members were convicted in the 1984 murder of Alan Berg, a Jewish talk-radio host in Denver.
L.A. police originally had refrained from labeling the attack a hate crime until more evidence was gathered, but California Gov. Gray Davis later in the day said that there were “reasonable grounds for belief” that the shootings “might be a hate crime.”
Officials at New York-area JCCs were taking no chances, despite assurances from the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York that “as of now there is no cause for extraordinary security measures for Jewish organizations in New York.
“We have instituted extra security,” said Diane Rubin, executive director of the Riverdale Y in The Bronx, which hosts a day camp for preschoolers. “I’ve talked to the Community Affairs office of the 50th Precinct, and a police car is patrolling for the rest of the day.”
“Stepping up security is our responsibility as a visible institution,” said a shaken Bob Friedman, associate director of the Central Queens Y, which hosts 300 summer campers ages 4 to 17.
The Y added an extra security guard at the main desk, closed off a rear entrance, keeping only one exit open, and requested a police patrol car during peak hours, especially when children leave camp. Friedman said guards were instructed to carefully check IDs, and made sure all security cameras were operational.
At Brooklyn’s Jewish Community House in Bensonhurst, executive vice president Howard Wasserman said the Bay Parkway building already has two security guards but he was considering adding more.
“It’s scary, it’s very scary. I think one has to be concerned,” he said. “We’re as vulnerable as any other public institution.”
But at the Suffolk Y JCC in Commack, L.I. — the second largest JCC in the country — executive director Joel Block said discussing security measures was premature.
“We need a day or two to play catch up,” he said. “Quite frankly, we have been monitoring the situation as closely as possible throughout the day and we are uncertain as to how things are playing out.”
There was no blanket advice for Jewish centers, said Sol Greenfield, associate executive vice president of the JCC Association of North America.
“Each center will determine [new security measures for] itself,” he said. “Some centers have gone to local law enforcement agencies for advice.”
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations advised its synagogues and Jewish schools to tighten security.
“I am personally much more conscious of the need to increase our security at every public function that we do,” said Rhonda Barad, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s New York office.
In Los Angeles, Jewish centers were facing a more immediate threat — the gunman was still at large.
“We’re in the process of locking down our facilities,” said Lee Robinson of Ramat Tzion, a Conservative JCC about 1.5 miles from North Valley that offers a day care center.
Malcom Katz, executive director of the Valley Beth Shalom congregation, has a 5-year-old granddaughter who attends the North Valley JCC camp.
“Everyone is very upset because this is our safe turf, this is where she goes everyday,” Katz told The Jewish Week.
“We’ve been meeting on and off all day with our security people to review all our security matters,” Katz said.
National Jewish organizations in statements denounced the rampage as horrific and outrageous.
The North American Boards of Rabbis called for a national summit of religious leaders to address the growing epidemic of random shootings. The American Jewish Committee offered a $10,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the gunman.
American Jewish Congress executive director Phil Baum said the attack “brings together the twin evils of gun violence and anti-Semitism.”
An emotional Jeff Rouss, executive director of the JCCs of Greater Los Angeles, said he had no indication something like this could happen and called for more gun control.
“As a Jew and as an American, as the director of the Jewish community center, this is an issue about safety in our society. We must do something about guns,” he said. “We must stop this.”
In Washington, President Clinton solemnly noted “another senseless act of gun violence.”
Rabbi Michael Melchior, the Israeli minister for diaspora relations, said he is very concerned at the recent upsurge in anti-Semitic violence in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Melchior said he plans to meet with world Jewish leaders in the near future to discuss the situation.
At the scene of the rampage, 22 children were evacuated and led to a nearby synagogue, Temple Beth Torah, while the rest of the area was cordoned off.
The 5-year-old boy, the most seriously injured, was hit in the stomach and leg, causing him to lose 30 percent of his blood. His condition Tuesday night was described as “critical but stable” by officials at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center. They called his prognosis fair.
The 6-year-olds and the 16-year-old girl, Mindy Finkelstein, who was shot twice in the leg, were both in stable condition. The 68-year-old woman, Isabelle Shalometh,who was shot in the arm, was released from the hospital Tuesday night.
In a heart-wrenching scene captured on television, the bewildered children were shown walking hand in hand in a chain across the deserted six-lane road, escorted by uniformed police officers towering over them.
“It’s terrifying that somebody would randomly pick on innocent children,” said the mother of a 7-year-old.
With reporting by Stewart Ain, Lawrence Cohler-Esses, Steve Lipman, Elicia Brown and Marc Brodsky.
- Robert J. Matthews
- Gray Davis
- Michael Melchior
- Eric J. Greenberg
- security guard
- Malcom Katz
- Neal Furrow
- Bob Friedman
- The Spokesman-Review
- JCC Association of North America
- founder of the hate group called the Order
- Alan Berg
- Joel Block
- Diane Rubin
- Robert Mathews
- Debbie Matthews
- Bruce Ramer
- executive vice president
- Las Vegas
- Social Issues
- New York
- united states
- Staff Writer
- Los Angeles
- Abraham Foxman
- executive director
- Anti-Defamation League