‘Hate will not win’: Rabbi says firebombed New Jersey synagogue back to routine

Temple Ner Tamid’s students return to class day after Molotov cocktail hurled at door, as law enforcement searches for suspect

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Surveillance footage shows a masked man hurling a Molotov cocktail at Temple Ner Tamid in New Jersey on January 29, 2023. (Bloomfield Police Department)
Surveillance footage shows a masked man hurling a Molotov cocktail at Temple Ner Tamid in New Jersey on January 29, 2023. (Bloomfield Police Department)

A New Jersey synagogue that was hit with a Molotov cocktail resumed daily activities on Monday, as law enforcement searched for the suspected antisemitic attacker.

Temple Ner Tamid in the town of Bloomfield canceled all events and classes on Sunday after the attack as it assisted law enforcement to respond. There were no injuries or damage in the incident.

“There’s a little bit of heaviness about today, as one would expect, but I was heartened to see that our building is full again with preschoolers learning,” Ner Tamid’s Rabbi Marc Katz said on Monday. “From what I’m finding, people are not going to let this scare them away from educating their children, from finding spiritual connection, from finding community.”

The synagogue began investing in security measures after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, Katz told The Times of Israel. The congregation received a grant from Homeland Security, hired consultants, created emergency plans, and trained staff.

The reinforced door to the synagogue blocked the Molotov cocktail and surveillance cameras captured the suspect, aiding law enforcement’s search. Katz said the synagogue will not likely change its security measures after the incident because the congregation is well-protected.

He said there have been recent incidents of antisemitism in the area, including swastikas drawn on playgrounds and school desks.

Police stationed outside a synagogue after threats to the Jewish community, in New York City, November 4, 2022. (Luke Tress/ Times of Israel)

“There’s a general ethos of hate. In general, what I would say though is I still fundamentally believe that the majority of people are allies and that any hatred that we are seeing is lone actors or very small groups who feel emboldened in this climate,” Katz said.

He thanked other faith leaders and political leaders for the “outpouring of support” after the attack.

Ner Tamid is a Reform congregation that offers religious classes to children from kindergarten to the sixth grade.

Bloomfield is in Essex County, around 30 minutes by car west of Manhattan.

Ner Tamid’s security cameras recorded the suspect approaching the synagogue at 3:19 a.m. on Sunday. The man lit a Molotov cocktail, threw it at the building’s door where it broke on impact, and fled down the driveway. Synagogue staff and security found the bottle when they arrived later Sunday morning.

The town of Bloomfield’s police department said the suspect appeared to be a white male and was classifying the attack as a bias incident and attempted arson.

Images from the surveillance camera showed a masked man dressed in black with what appears to be a skull and crossbones on his shirt.

“We have and will continue to do everything in our power to keep our community safe. Everything worked as it should. Our cameras recorded the incident and our shatter-resistant doors held,” Katz said after the attack.

The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, New Jersey, said its security officer was working to address the incident with local law enforcement, Homeland Security and other Jewish security groups.

The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, the American Jewish Committee and two Jewish community security groups issued a joint statement condemning the attack.

The statement said there were no known additional threats.

The ADL documented 370 antisemitic incidents in New Jersey in 2021, the most recent year for which figures are available and the highest number ever recorded.

The ADL recorded 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the US in 2021, a 34% increase from the previous year, and the highest since it began tracking in 1979.

In November, a New Jersey man with extremist Islamist views threatened synagogues, causing the FBI to issue a sweeping warning to the state’s Jewish communities.

Weeks later, law enforcement in New York City arrested two men and seized weapons after they threatened to “shoot up a synagogue.”

In April, a New Jersey man allegedly went on a violent attack spree targeting Orthodox Jews in the town of Lakewood, causing serious injuries to four. The suspect has been charged with federal hate crimes and faces a maximum term of life in prison.

In 2019, antisemitic attackers shot dead three people at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City.

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