It has been just more than three and a half years since swastikas desecrated Temple Israel in Maywood, here in Bergen County, New Jersey.
A week later, Temple Beth-El in Hackensack was targeted.
“At a time when the Jewish community should be celebrating the joyous festival of Chanukah,” said Etzion Neuer of the ADL, “instead they find themselves cleaning spray-painted symbols of hatred off of their place of worship.”
Then the attacks escalated — a crude act of arson at K’hal Adath Jeshurun in Paramus; a planned attack with firebombs at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus — interrupted when a police officer passed by. Finally, actual firebombs were thrown into Rutherford’s Congregation Beth El, into the bedroom of Rabbi Nosson Schuman.
The ADL offered a $10,000 reward. The County Prosecutor’s office held a press conference to highlight the reward. And that — with detective work one would be tempted to call old-fashioned had it not relied on the high-tech infrastructure of the 21st century — cracked the case. Armed with a list of the ingredients of the firebombs — notably, Orange Crush for the bottles — they visited local stores until they found a Walmart that had sold them all in one transaction. Correlate that with the in-store security cameras, and they had a suspect, later identified as Anthony Graziano. Further police work — following up on a tip left on our website, examining Mr. Graziano’s email and text messages — led to a second suspect, and alleged ringleader, Aakash Dalal.
Arrests were made, and bail was put at an impressively high $1 million.
Clearly, the Bergen Prosecutor’s office was taking this case seriously.
As Rabbi Arthur Weiner of the Paramus Jewish Community Center, one of the attacked shuls, puts it in our report on the latest development in the case (page 8), “It’s been terrific. We’ve had amazing cooperation and interest in the case from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the county sheriff, the state police, and the Paramus police.”
If the point of the attackers was to make the Jews of Bergen County feel hated, like outsiders, the result was the opposite: We felt protected by our police, cared for by our government.
Further reassurance came as the attacked synagogues — with the exception of Rabbi Weiner’s, among the smallest in North Jersey — received federal Homeland Security grants, enabling them to install video cameras and otherwise enhance their security.
And now, in advance of last week’s hearing, the prosecutor’s office reached out again to the Jewish community.
As Jews in New Jersey, we are a minority. But the majority’s message to us is loud and clear: We are included. We are not outsiders.
Sadly, that’s not always the case for minorities everywhere.
While the past 3 1/2 years have seen no further attacks on our religious institutions in New Jersey, over the same period, in Israel, 43 churches and mosques have been vandalized.
In contrast to the high level of concern in New Jersey over synagogue vandalism, the silence of the Israeli leadership has been stunning.
Not until last week, following an attack on a church in the Galilee that drew official outrage from the Vatican, were arrests made.
Yet during much of this time, knowledgeable Israeli insiders — such as Carmi Gillon, the former head of Israel’s General Security Services, the Shabak — have said the perpetrators were well known to the security services.
Politicians questioned about the lack of arrests have said: “It’s all politics.”
In other words, the suspected perpetrators are not fringe loners like those allegedly behind the New Jersey synagogue bombings.
We’re hoping the arrests mean that the Israeli government has decided to take attacks on churches and synagogues seriously, and that if those arrested prove to be guilty, they receive the kind of stiff sentences we expect to be meted out to our alleged New Jersey desecrators if they are found guilty.
We rightly applaud our government when it works to keep our holy places safe. If the State of Israel can’t do the same for the holy places of its minority religions, it deserves our opprobrium.