Saturday, November 19, 2005

Chabad fights attacks with new security

By Shayndi Raice

Monday November 14 2005

Congregation plans to raise $30k to protect building

After two recent anti-Semitic attacks against Chabad-Lubavitch of the North Shore, the synagogue has begun a campaign to raise between $24,000 and $30,000 to upgrade its security. However, despite Chabad’s security fears, other synagogues in the area are not concerned that the attacks are part of a new surge in anti-Semitism in the Swampscott area.

The synagogue was vandalized days before Rosh Hashanah when vulgar graffiti was scrawled on interior walls. Two weeks later, a van belonging to Chabad was torched in the parking lot and deemed to be arson by the Swampscott Police Department. Both incidents are being investigated as a hate-crime by local and federal investigators. Police have not yet said whether there is a connection between the events but are continuing an investigation. A reward has been posted for any new information.
But while Chabad is taking steps to upgrade its security, Rabbi Edgar J. Weinsberg, spiritual leader of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, said that although his congregants have approached him about the Chabad attacks “there’s no sense of anxiety.”
He said: “Anti-Semitism has been around for a long time. It’s still isolated incidents and I don’t see any organized movement with serious consequences.”
However, he added that “the saying ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom’ is always accurate when it comes to a few of the crazy or just pain irresponsible individuals who seem to get pleasure from such activities.”
To maintain that vigilance, he said his synagogue has a security system with an alarm and is regularly patrolled by the police. He added that his congregants are on alert for suspicious characters.
Weinsberg also attributed his feeling of safety to the Swampscott Police Department, who, he said, has been attentive in protecting Jewish institutions since the intifada began in Israel in 2000. “The police are very alert and responsive and have helped keep the calm,” he said.
He also attributes his calm to a conversation he had with Rabbi Yossi Lispker, spiritual leader of the Chabad, immediately after the first attack. “It looked to him more like a prank or people who are ignorant rather than a group of organized white supremacists which is why I didn’t get alarmed,” said Weinsberg.
However, since the second attack, questions of a connection are arising. Peter Nathan, president of the Chabad said:”We don’t even know exactly what is happening and we won’t know because the police, while they’re in the middle of the investigation, won’t release that information. Because we don’t know what it is, I think it would be inappropriate to say there’s a big level of anxiety. We are concerned and we are taking appropriate steps.”
However, both Lipsker and Nathan have been buoyed by the support of the larger community, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Lipsker said he received calls from Jews and non-Jews in the area expressing support: “Total strangers have been reaching out and asking, ‘What can we do?’ The support has been very uplifting.”
Nathan said a group from Gordon College visited the synagogue during Sukkot and expressed their support for Lispker and the Jewish community in light of the recent attacks.
“People have been extremely generous,” he said, adding that a new van was donated anonymously to the synagogue only days after the attack. “[The community] said they’re behind us and that they’re indignant.”
The Anti-Defamation League of New Engald provided Lipsker with a security manual available on its Web site to the larger Jewish community. “The first step is doing an assessment [of the institution] and then doing a plan that meets their specifications,” explained Robert Trestan, civil rights director of the ADL. “Everyone should have a security plan and that’s what the manual is geared at.”
Based on the ADL’s assessment, the Chabad estimated the amount of money they would need and created a task force to upgrade security and raise money, including posting a link to donate on its Web site, “The ADL has been very supportive and they helped us by providing certain security resources,” said Lipsker.

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