Masked suspect hurls firebomb at New Jersey synagogue

Police search for attacker after suspected hate crime against Temple Ner Tamid; no injuries or damage caused by late-night incident

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)

An attacker hurled a firebomb at a synagogue in New Jersey early Sunday morning, police said, as US Jewish communities continue to grapple with surging antisemitism and anti-Jewish hate crimes.

Temple Ner Tamid’s security cameras recorded the suspect approaching the synagogue at 3:19 a.m. The man lit a molotov cocktail, threw it at the building’s door, and fled down the driveway.

The bottle broke on impact but did not cause damage to the synagogue, said the town of Bloomfield’s police department, adding that the suspect appears to be a white male.

Police responded to a report of damage at the synagogue later Sunday morning and are 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.

The synagogue said the fire went out on impact, there was no visible damage to the building, and the door remained secure. Synagogue staff and security found the bottle when they arrived on Sunday morning.

Ner Tamid canceled activities on Sunday and said there will likely be a heightened police presence at the synagogue in the coming days.

“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,” Rabbi Marc Katz said in a statement.

“There is hate everywhere, and hate wins when we let it penetrate. When the weight of this grows too heavy, I remind my congregation that every day, despite what is happening, in Jewish communities around the world, babies are named, children are educated, people are married. Our religious traditions continue,” Katz said.

Ner Tamid is a Reform congregation that offers religious classes to children from kindergarten to the 6th grade.

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

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 Israeli consulate in New York said it stands “with Jewish communities from NJ to Jerusalem in the face of antisemitic violence and intimidation.”

State officials also said there was a Saturday attack against a church in central New Jersey.

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said, “We are cognizant of the fact that these attacks have occurred while violence continues to erupt in Israel, and while our own nation reckons with violence at home.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said, “There is no place for violence or hate in New Jersey and I strongly condemn these acts.”

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.

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

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.

In New York City, there were over 250 antisemitic hate crimes reported to authorities last year, marking a steep rise in incidents targeting Jews over the past two years, according to police data.

In some recent incidents in New York City, a man damaged a Staten Island synagogue in a suspected hate crime, a teenage girl was accosted on a street in Brooklyn, and two Jewish boys were attacked on a street, also in Brooklyn.

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