‘People Have Turned Away From Us’

‘People Have Turned Away From Us’

Synagogue officials across the country this week struggled with how to handle security arrangements for the High Holy Days, while bizarre bias acts occurred at two synagogues in Connecticut and in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, two weeks after a white supremacist gunman went on a shooting rampage at Los Angeles Jewish Community Center wounding five people, including three children, JCC officials are issuing a plea for help, saying they are feeling abandoned by the Jewish community.
“People have turned away from us much too fast,” said Jeff Rouss, executive vice president of the 12 JCCs of Greater Los Angeles.
Rouss told The Jewish Week he needs to raise millions of dollars to pay for new security systems at 12 sites, while still keeping the centers affordable for its working-class senior citizen and nursery school populations.
“The congregations, schools and YMCAs — everyone felt it was an attack on them. And as they turned [inward] to their own anxiety, we were left alone,” Rouss said. “And we really need their help, specifically an outpouring of warmth and affection as well as donations. I have not had the corporate or philanthropic community step up to the plate, at least not yet.”
Rouss said that despite outward appearances that things are back to normal, looks can be deceiving.
“The sadness is always nearby. The children can play all day in the sun, but when the shadow of a plane or helicopter intrudes, they cry and ask, ‘is the monster back?’
“A 3-year-old child notices a scraped knee and tells her teacher, ‘a bad man shot me.’ ”
Rouss said he can’t afford to hire a social worker for the children at the day camp at the JCC in Granada Hills, where three children under 6 were wounded, as well as a teenage counselor and a receptionist. Buford Furrow, a 37-year-old white supremacist, was charged with attempted murder and the murder of a Filipino postal worker near the center.
“If the philanthropic and corporate community doesn’t help us, I think the monster will win,” Rouss said.
Meanwhile, communities on the other side of the country are also reeling from the shock of anti-Semitic attacks.
In Connecticut, Temple Beth El of Stamford and Temple Beth El of Norwalk were the targets of nearly identical hate incidents last week.
On Aug. 17, maintenance workers found two containers of medical waste at Temple Beth El in Stamford. On one container were drawings of four swastikas and a newspaper photo of Furrow. It also had the words, “a wake-up call to America to kill the Jews,” the phrase used by Furrow after he surrendered.
The next day, an employee of Temple Beth El in Norwalk found a bag of medical waste in the parking lot near the temple’s nursery school play area. The bag also had a swastika, but did not have any pictures or Furrow’s quote attached.
Similar bags without hate messages were also dumped at Roxbury Elementary School, Newfield Green Shopping Center, and book drops at the Turn of River and Weed Memorial Libraries in Stamford.
Because of the similarities, the police in both towns believe the incidents are linked and have set up a task force with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate.
Some items in the bag, including glass tubes, syringes, cotton swabs, bandages (some with blood), napkins and straws, had tracking numbers which may enable officials to trace the crimes to the culprits. The State Police Lab, which has state-of-the-art equipment to detect forensic evidence, is also checking for a possible fingerprint on a piece of clear tape found in the debris.
“People are very upset, clearly, because it’s their synagogue and their community,” said Rabbi William Marder of Beth El of Norwalk.
At Temple Beth El in Stamford, Rabbi Joshua Hammerman and president Mark A. Lapine attempted to keep a low profile on the incident.
In a letter and e-mail sent to the congregation, Lapine wrote, “We would very much like not to make this an incident of grander proportions than it is, as we do not want to encourage any copycat behavior.”
He added that the police, which has increased its patrols since the JCC shootings, were scheduled to address the congregation on Aug. 26.
Joel Kaye, chair of the Anti-Defamation League’s Fairfield County chapter, urged Jewish leaders to “undertake prudent security measures at our facilities.”
“What happened in Norwalk is even more troubling, because it indicates that this is not a finished matter, but rather a developing story,” said Kaye. “If things continue and intensify, it will have a greater impact on the High Holy Days.”
Concern also rose in the Midwood section of Brooklyn this week after vandals scratched swastikas and anti-Semitic words into the paint of seven cars, all of German make.
The incidents occurred last Sunday on East 12th Street and police said they are investigating them as bias crimes. The damaged cars included BMWs, Volkswagons and a Mercedez-Benz. It was the second bias incident in Midwood in two weeks.
Howie Katz, regional director of the ADL, said the spate of anti-Semitic acts has created a tense atmosphere but condemned the car vandalism.
“While it is not uncommon for acts of bias and hatred to be followed by ‘tit-for-tat’ bias, [they] are no more appropriate than the violent acts that inspired them.”
Meanwhile in Hauppauge, L.I., the New York Board of Rabbis donated $1,800 to Temple Beth Chai, whose basement office was damaged last week in a firebombing. Police are calling the fire a bias crime, and the money donated comes from the New York Board’s “From the Ashes Fund” created in 1996 to assist African-American churches destroyed by arson.

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