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Washington Synagogues Receive Suspicious Mail Prompting FBI Response

Seattle police officers and firefighters responded to two reported hazmat situations synagogues Friday evening.

According to the Seattle Fire Department, the Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation, an orthodox synagogue located at 6500 52nd Avenue South, was evacuated as a safety precaution. 

The building security manager, Ben Tilson, said an employee was opening mail when they discovered an envelope with multiple documents. When opening the envelope, a white, powdery substance fell out. 

The powder was tested and determined not to be hazardous. The FBI is also investigating a similar situation at another local congregation, although additional testing is needed to “fully characterize” the substances, according to the FBI.

“Law enforcement and public safety officials are working to determine how many letters were sent, the individual(s) responsible for the letters, and the motive behind them,” according to the FBI. 

The documents were addressed to the synagogue and contained excerpts from an unknown biblical language. The letter was discovered around 4 p.m. and evening services were canceled. 

“Unfortunately this isn’t a surprise given the nature of anti-Jewish sentiment and anti-Jewish rallies and protests that have taken place globally since the Oct. 7 massacre in southern Israel,” said Jack Gottesman, the vice president of the synagogue’s Board of Directors. “Unfortunately, this is something our community has learned to deal with but we are strong, we are proud and we are not running away.” 

Nearby synagogue leader Ari Hoffman echoed the same sentiment.

“We are not running, we are not hiding, we are here and we are always going to be here,” said Hoffman.

The second location was at a synagogue on Wilson Avenue South at around 5:30 p.m. That suspicious package was submitted into evidence.

There have been no reports of any injuries or property damage at either location.

While officers were investigating, a third 911 call came in about a suspicious package. This one was on 17th Avenue Northwest, near the University of Washington’s Center for Jewish Life. 

SPD Arson Bomb Squad detectives will lead the investigation into both of these cases.