No injuries even though children were on premises

Man arrested after firing shots at Albany, NY, synagogue, shouting ‘Free Palestine’

Attack on house of worship, with preschool, highlights the steep rise in antisemitic hate crimes outside Israel since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and Israel’s war on the terror group

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

Albany police officers gather outside Temple Israel, December 7, 2023, in Albany, New York.(AP Photo/Maysoon Khan)
Albany police officers gather outside Temple Israel, December 7, 2023, in Albany, New York.(AP Photo/Maysoon Khan)

New York Jewish Week — A 28-year-old man was arrested after allegedly firing two shots outside Temple Israel in Albany, New York, on Thursday, the first night of Hanukkah, while shouting “Free Palestine.”

There were no injuries in the shooting on the premises of the Conservative synagogue in New York’s capital, Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement, adding that she had spoken with the congregation’s rabbi. She said in a press briefing, however, that the synagogue has an onsite nursery school, “with at least two dozen children, preschoolers, who were on the premises.” She added that the facility went into lockdown but that all children have been released safely to their parents.

Mufid Fawaz Alkhader, 28, was arrested at the scene and will appear in court Friday morning on firearms charges, according to a statement by the FBI. Additional charges, including hate crimes charges, could follow, law enforcement officials said.

The suspect shouted “Free Palestine” during the incident, the local police chief, Eric Hawkins, said during a press conference Thursday evening, confirming reporting by Albany’s Times Union newspaper.

The incident took place on the two-month anniversary of Hamas’s October 7 massacre as US Jews grapple with a surge in antisemitism following the onslaught and Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza.

During the onslaught, thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed into southern Israel, killing 1,200 people — most of them civilians — with shocking acts of brutality and abducting another 240 to the Gaza Strip. Israel subsequently launched a military campaign in the Strip, vowing to remove Hamas from power.

A menorah stands outside the entrance to Temple Israel, December 7, 2023, in Albany, New York. (AP Photo/Maysoon Khan)

Hochul visited Temple Israel on October 7 in a show of solidarity amid the Hamas massacre and plans to return Friday evening for Shabbat services following the shooting. She said she had contacted Temple Israel’s Rabbi Wendy Love Anderson and “assured her that the state of New York will do everything possible to restore the sense of security her congregation needs at this time.”

Temple Israel posted a picture of the rabbi and several congregants lighting Hanukkah candles on Facebook Thursday evening. “In these challenging times, our unwavering spirit shines as a beacon of hope, proving that even in the darkest of moments, our light remains undimmed,” the synagogue wrote. “We are immensely grateful to our Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and civic leaders, whose swift and decisive actions have reinforced the safety and unity of our community.”

Hochul said she had directed the New York State Police and the state’s national guard to be on high alert and step up patrols of at-risk sites for Hanukkah, such as synagogues, yeshivas and community centers throughout the state — including New York City, which is home to the largest Jewish population in the United States.

“Any act of antisemitism is unacceptable, and undermining public safety at a synagogue on the first night of Hanukkah is even more deplorable,” Hochul said. “We reject hate, antisemitism and violence in all forms.”

In the briefing, Hochul noted that the synagogue had been one of several targeted with bomb threats in September.

Law enforcement and Jewish community security groups have reported a surge in antisemitism since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

In New York City, the NYPD reported 62 antisemitic hate crimes last month and 69 attacks in October, a steep increase. Anti-Jewish incidents made up 65% of all hate crimes reported to police last month. There is no comparable data available for antisemitic hate crimes in upstate New York.

Albany police officers gather outside Temple Israel, December 7, 2023, in Albany, New York.(AP Photo/Maysoon Khan)

Synagogues and other Jewish institutions have been targeted in the wave of hate crimes. Last week, bomb threats were made against 15 synagogues in New York State, including five in upstate areas.

The threats were made as part of a campaign intended to interrupt synagogue operations by forcing law enforcement to go to a location, and there did not appear to be any actual danger to the targets, said the director of the Jewish security group the Community Security Initiative, Mitch Silber.

“The bottom line is this: The safety of Jewish New Yorkers is non-negotiable,” Hochul said in the briefing. “Every act, whether it’s verbal or physical, any act of antisemitism is unacceptable, and undermining the public safety at our synagogue, on the first night of Hanukkah, is even more deplorable.”

“I remind everyone: As New Yorkers, this is not who we are. This must stop, ” she added. “We reject hate, antisemitism, Islamophobia. All hate crimes must stop, and all violence in every form must cease. We have no tolerance for these acts of evil that have now permeated our society.”

Ahead of questions, the briefing concluded with the lighting of Hanukkah candles, led by Eva Wyner, the state’s deputy director of Jewish affairs.

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