Temple Israel in Albany was one of multiple synagogues targeted with a bomb threat on Friday, forcing the congregation to evacuate as Rosh Hashanah began. The threat against the temple comes among a trend of rising antisemitic incidents in New York and nationwide.
Synagogues in a dozen states also were targeted, including bomb threats made in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cleveland and New York City. StopAntisemitism – a Jewish watchdog organization reporting on antisemitic events – shared a list of synagogues targeted over the weekend.
Rabbi Wendy Anderson said that police officers responded to the synagogue when the evening service was nearly done and asked everyone to move outside. The synagogue was equipped with a security guard who recorded the names of all who entered and was able to confirm all had been evacuated.
The building was searched by police and K-9 units and deemed safe for Saturday’s service for the Jewish New Year celebration.
Anderson, who started at Temple Israel in July, said she had heard of “swatting” incidents like that one, which involved calling bomb threats to synagogues in various cities.
“Why does some jerk with a phone and the ability to Google ‘when is Rosh Hashanah?’ get to interfere with our service?” Anderson said.
The rabbi said the incident was not unlike many other increasing instances of antisemitic threats across the country. The police had previously practiced emergency drills at the synagogue, and Anderson was part of a security briefing before the high holidays out of caution.
Anderson said that the antisemitic incident showed that security in place at Temple Israel worked well. Of more concern to the rabbi is how antisemitism is creating fear about hosting Jewish community events and wearing traditional religious items, like kippahs, in public.
Saturday’s Rosh Hashanah services were attended by hundreds of worshippers, including Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who came to show her support following the incident.
“I went to Rosh Hashanah services to ensure that the members of Temple Israel know that they are not alone in this fight against hatred and bigotry, and I am grateful for the warm and welcoming reception I received,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan said the incident was a reminder that antisemitism is rising everywhere, including in Albany. She said that the Albany Police Department responded quickly and will continue to monitor synagogues during the holiday season.
“It just really affirmed how great of a community we have at Temple Israel, the Jewish community and also in Albany,” Anderson said.
Following the holiday weekend, Gov. Kathy Hochul addressed antisemitism across New York in a news conference at the Center for Jewish History on Tuesday, saying that everyone deserves to “worship without anxiety.”
Hochul said that New York is reaffirming its support for the Jewish community during their high holiday celebration and leading the nation in fighting antisemitism.
“We will be the place where we teach what tolerance and understanding are all about,” Hochul said. “You cannot ignore the seeds of hate and antisemitism that have been planted.”
Hochul also announced more funding to fight antisemitism and hate crimes. Those efforts include the establishment of a state education center, an increase in data collection on hate and bias by the state Division of Human Rights, and reinforcement of mental health programs for Jewish communities facing antisemitism.
“This is not just a Jewish experience,” Hochul said. “This hurts all of us.”
The governor also said that $500,000 would go to community organizations to fight antisemitism and hate, while an additional $38 million would be allocated for securing physical sites, including synagogues, from hate crimes, an initiative that had previously received $150 million in funding.
Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, spoke at the news conference and commended Hochul’s dedication to the issue, saying that fighting hate helps all groups that face discrimination.
“Hate cannot be fought in silos. What begins with Jews rarely ever ends with Jews,” Lipstadt said. “It has to be a whole-of-society approach. Speak up.”
Anderson also expressed concern about the growing hate she has seen across many minority groups.
“I also worry that usually antisemitism isn’t by itself,” Anderson said. “The people who hate Jews probably hate a bunch of other minority groups, too. We may be the canary in the coal mine for the rise of certain kinds of extremism.”
Hochul also called on other states and countries to dedicate resources to combating antisemitism.
“Follow our lead,” Hochul said.