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Long Island synagogues boost security for holidays after anti-Semitic incidents

A pedestrian walks by Ahavat Shalom Synagogue in

A pedestrian walks by Ahavat Shalom Synagogue in Great Neck on Friday. At an earlier news conference, county officials announced increased protection efforts around synagogues and other areas of concern during the Jewish High Holy Days. Credit: Danielle Silverman

As Long Island's synagogues and police step up security for the Jewish High Holy Days, some religious leaders say their congregants are feeling more anxious in the wake of an increase in anti-Semitic incidents.

Some synagogues are hiring armed guards for the holidays, which often attract the largest number of visitors they see all year. Some are requiring people to show IDs along with their tickets to get in.

Even before the holidays, some synagogues have begun having active shooter drills for the children in their congregation.

The celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, takes place from sunset on Sunday to nightfall on Tuesday. Judaism’s High Holy Days continue with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, from Oct. 8 into the following evening. 

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said he knew of no credible threat at this time in the county or anywhere in the state.

Both Nassau and Suffolk police say they will increase their presence around synagogues over the holidays.

In addition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday directed state police to increase their security presence near synagogues and other religious centers during the Jewish holidays.

"We will not allow the cowards who contributed to the recent rash of hateful acts against the Jewish community and other groups to intimidate or divide us," Cuomo said in a statement. "In New York, we value diversity, inclusion and acceptance — and I want to assure our Jewish brothers and sisters that New York stands united with them now and always."

Rabbi Art Vernon of Shaaray Shalom synagogue in West Hempstead said his synagogue was one of 17 in Nassau that received Homeland Security grants to increase security.

“Given the events of last year we know our members are a little more anxious so we’ve stepped up our security,” he said.

At the Chabad of Mineola, more greeters will be at the doors to keep an eye on who is entering, said Rabbi Anchelle Perl. The synagogue will also for the first time have volunteers periodically announcing to the congregation where the exits are located “so people know what to do, God forbid,” he said.

Rabbi Susie Heneson Moskowitz of Temple Beth Torah in Melville said the temple would hire additional security guards during the holidays. The temple has also been working on limiting access to unused areas during such services, installing systems that have people buzzed in.

She said she may well address the congregation not only about the holiday's message of hope and perseverance, but also acknowledge the rise in anti-Semitism.

"We need to be prepared for how to answer anti-Semitic acts," she said.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the county saw 34 reported hate crimes, 28 of them anti-Semitic, last year. So far this year there have been 50, with 30 of them anti-Semitic.

Ryder said the department was in “constant contact” with the FBI and the NYPD “to keep us in the loop. Our intel runs 24/7 to make sure we are getting the best intelligence.”

The police department met with local faith leaders last week to go over security plans, Ryder said.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said officers would increase patrol checks at and around religious institutions for the upcoming Jewish holy days.

In addition, department members have been reaching out to each synagogue and Jewish institution within their precinct. The department offers Safety in the Sanctuary, an active shooter training seminar tailored to meet the unique challenges faced by houses of worship.

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