Nassau County police descended on Long Island’s largest Orthodox Jewish synagogue Saturday and began questioning its security team just as services for Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, were beginning for hundreds of congregants.
The seven-member police squad, led by the head of the county’s pistol license bureau, was not responding to a 911 call, but looking for alleged pistol permit violations among Young Israel of Woodmere’s armed security force, officials said.
No violations were found.
Synagogue leaders and local elected officials expressed concern about the incident. They are working with police to ensure appropriate security measures are followed in the future at Young Israel, which has the largest Orthodox Jewish congregation in the nation, according to the Orthodox Union.
Synagogue officials, state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and Hempstead Town Board members Bruce Blakeman and Anthony D’Esposito met Monday with Steven Skrynecki, the chief of department. Another meeting is scheduled for next Thursday.
“As a result of meetings with leadership of the congregation and with the Nassau County police department, it appears that a police department investigation was legitimate, but all agree that it was poorly executed, poorly timed and not well thought out,” Blakeman said Wednesday.
“We received assurances from the police department that it would not happen like that again. After the meeting there was an understanding that both sides had an interest in good relations,” Blakeman said.
Steven Zuller, chairman of the Young Israel board, said, “Working collaboratively with local law enforcement and our legislators, we appreciate their understanding and concern as this potentially relates to security for our congregation.”
He declined to disclose the size of the congregation, but said, “We definitely have a lot of security. Our membership’s security and well-being is one of the most important things. That’s top priority for anything we do.”
Synagogue President Yehuda Poupko said, “On the advice of our security consultants, we cannot comment about the situation, as it relates to security matters. However, we are working very closely with our elected officials and local law enforcement.”
According to police and synagogue officials, seven officers arrived at Young Israel as Shabbat services were beginning Saturday morning. The police officers did not enter the synagogue, but went to the doors and questioned its security team, upsetting some congregants.
Skrynecki said the police department “was investigating reports of possible pistol license violations. . . . At no time did our members enter the temple or intentionally disrupt services. While on the property, we did interview several security personnel outside the temple.”
He acknowledged the department “has been made aware of complaints by several congregants and we have met and are in discussion with temple officials at this time and are investigating these complaints.”
The chief said the complaints “are suggesting inappropriate timing and demeanor on the part of our officers.” He declined to give further details.
“It is an ongoing investigation,” Skrynecki said. “It’s important to us to work with the temple officials to maintain the good relationship that we have. It was never our intention to damage that relationship in any way.”
He declined to say who authorized the raid but added that police “investigate all complaints of potential pistol license violations and/or unauthorized or illegal possession of a weapon. Upon receiving information such as that, the department is duty bound to take prompt action to maintain public safety and safety within or around a private entity.”