NEW YORK – In Pearl River, NY a small town just 20 minutes from Manhattan, a Jewish couple, Barbara Gross Bernasconi and her husband Steve Bernasconi awoke Sunday July 27 to find their cars covered in swastikas, the Nazi “SS” symbol, the words “white power” and other racist graffiti. Three of the couple’s tires were also slashed.
The local police are investigating the incident as a potential hate crime. The Anti-Defamation League is urging members of the community to speak out and denounce the act of hate as unacceptable. After the couple posted photos of the incident on Facebook, scores of people posted messages supporting the couple and denouncing the vandalism.
This kind of community support can help increase security, said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis and senior rabbi at Congregation Mt. Sinai in Brooklyn Heights.
At the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, security personnel are checking bags at the door and scrutinizing photo IDs. Over at Congregation Mt. Sinai in Brooklyn Heights only authorized people can gain entrance.
“We’ve maintained a higher lever of security for a long time, but any time there’s a crisis in the Middle East we need to review measures. Thankfully, the local police work closely with synagogues, JCCs and other Jewish institutions to provide necessary coverage,” said Potasnik.
Having visible security is nothing new for Jewish institutions in New York City’s five boroughs. However, given the number of attacks against Jewish facilities across Europe, and the uptick in demonstrations in the United States, American Jewish institutions should re-evaluate their security, according to a bulletin issued Friday by the Secure Community Network, SCN, a joint enterprise of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“People are seeing what’s going on in Europe and think God forbid it should happen here. So, out of an abundance of caution, we are telling people to be more aware of their surroundings,” said Don Cohen, program coordinator for Israel and International Affairs at the Jewish Community and Relations Council. “Can something happen? Absolutely. We don’t expect it to, but the best thing you can do for yourself is not to look like a target.”
While there are no specific threats against New York City’s Jewish institutions, it’s prudent to be prepared, Cohen said.
‘Can something happen? Absolutely. We don’t expect it to, but the best thing you can do for yourself is not to look like a target’
Institutions should consider asking for additional patrols from local law enforcement, limiting access to perhaps just one entryway, monitoring social media and reviewing cyber security.
Other steps, such as making sure synagogue ushers know who all the members are, or having a friend or family of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah welcome guests, can help. The trick is to balance being safe and secure with being warm and welcoming, Cohen said.
“Jewish institutions have expressed concerns, particularly about securing events from protests and other possible disruptions. We have also responded to hate crimes related to the conflict,” national director of the ADL Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement.
However in spite of increased tension, people shouldn’t stop going to their synagogue, or taking classes at their JCC, according to the SCN.
“You don’t form relationships during a crisis, you need to form them before,” Mt. Sinai’s Potasnik said. “We have to make sure that whatever happens there [in Israel] shouldn’t affect us here. We can have strong disagreements but no one should take security lightly during these tense times.”