By Bill Parry
Rabbi Romiel Daniel and many of his constituents at the Rego Park Jewish Center say they feel vulnerable following Saturday’s deadly attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue, when a crazed gunman shouting anti-Semitic remarks shot and killed 11 worshippers.
“I didn’t expect to see something like this happen in the United States,” Rabbi Daniel said. “There is so much division right now with such hateful rhetoric coming from Washington. I just wish things would calm down.”
Rabbi Daniel was born and raised in Mumbai, India, where 10 Pakistani men went on a 2008 terror spree killing 164 people.
“We’ve seen what happened back home and I never expected to see such a thing here,” he said. “But that’s what happens when there is so much negativity on television and then it gets amplified on social media feeds. Now you see people going out of there way to bump into others for no reason. I see this happening right here in Queens.”
Rabbi Daniel also fears his synagogue is too exposed.
“We’re right here on Queens Boulevard, the main road, and we feel exposed. Anyone can drive up on us,” he said. “We keep all of our doors locked but one and we can’t afford an armed guard. We’re very thankful to the NYPD for helping us tremendously. Officers are here all of the time and we are quite happy with them. The 112th Precinct just held a safety seminar here for the communities of Rego Park and Forest Hills.”
Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky of the Northeast Queens Chabad said he was as horrified as everyone else and saddened by the state of society today where “someone can mindlessly and heartlessly destroy 11 innocent live.”
He too has security on his mind.
“I am hearing more concern than ever before from my congregants,” he said. “The NYPD must do everything they can to protect houses of worship and they have reached out to us and discussed security issues with us.”
Cynthia Zalisky, the executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council — which represents more than 140 of the borough’s Jewish institutions and organizations — said the extra security provided by the NYPD has brought relief in a stressful time.
“We are all shocked and stunned by what happened at the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh. It was heartbreaking for us,” Zalisky said. “We know that our synagogues and schools are considered soft targets so we are very cognizant of that fact and after what happened in Pittsburgh we’re also well aware that the age of complacency is over and we have to take each and every threat seriously. The NYPD certainly has responded. I was quite impressed how seriously they took the situation.”
Hours after the attack, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan told reporters that while there was no credible threat to New York, his department would be on high alert around the Jewish community.
“Out of an abundance of caution the NYPD has deployed officers from the Critical Response Command and Strategic Response Group to houses of worship. These officers, who are equipped with heavy weapons, have been deployed to locations throughout the city,” Monahan said. “In addition, NYPD officers in every precinct throughout the city are visiting sensitive locations to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers. Thousands of officers, many of them active-shooter trained, are vigilant and patrolling our city.”
In his remarks Sunday at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the NYPD presence around Jewish community institutions would continue as long as necessary to keep people safe.
“New Yorkers know that the only way to address hatred is head-on, don’t sweep it under the rug,” de Blasio said. “Don’t look away, don’t act like it won’t get worse. In fact, we have to confront it, all of us together.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr