RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Members of Bergen County’s Jewish community met with law enforcement officials Thursday night following Wednesday’s firebombing of a synagogue in Rutherford as well as other recent targeted bias crimes in Hackensack, Maywood and Paramus.
“It doesn’t matter what your standing is, or what your race is, you’re entitled to freedom,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg. “And why in America, we can’t standup and stop this kind of hatred, violence, is beyond understanding.”
Lautenberg led a panel of New Jersey lawmakers to denounce as hate crimes a string of four anti-Semitic attacks on synagogues and homes in North Jersey in the last month.
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At a news conference Thursday, following the closed door, standing room only meeting between police and the community to address concerns, authorities announced that all synagogues in the Bergen County area will see random, but regular police protection.
The latest attack overnight Tuesday was the firebombing of Rabbi Nosson Schuman’s residence next to Congregation Beth El in Rutherford. A Molotov cocktail was thrown through his bedroom window, melting his blinds, lighting his bed on fire, and terrorizing his family as they slept.
He now has 24-hour police protection.
“You know there’s an expression ‘lightning doesn’t strike twice.’ Well in some cases it does. The fear lives within me and I’m worried,” said Schuman. “It almost breaks the idea of freedom of religion. You want to be able to go and practice religion and not have to be like going to the airport and take off your shoes beforehand.”
The rabbi’s daughter said the experience she went through will never be lost on her.
“It really hit me that I am lucky to be alive,” said Schuman’s 15-year-old daughter Menuchah. “My dad’s saying ‘fire, fire’ and he grabs the fire extinguisher and he runs back into his bedroom.”
“They tried hurting my family but God protected us,” she added. “It really hit me that I am lucky to be alive.”
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“This is certainly a hate crime, this is certainly a bias crime,” said Bergen County prosecutor John Molinelli. “This is aggravated arson, but most importantly, we’re now looking on this as an attempted homicide.”
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Police believe at least two people hurled several Molotov cocktails and lit aerosol canisters into Schuman’s bedroom window. They melted the blinds and lit his bed on fire where he and his wife were sleeping.
“We just woke up to flames roaring through my window and my quilt caught fire,” Rabbi Schuman said.
“I ran to get the kids, started screaming then got my father-in-law in the attic,” said his wife, Pessy Schuman.
Rutherford Police were scheduled to be stationed outside Congregation Beth El into the weekend.
“We’d turn the radio on and hear about these anti-Semitic attacks and I thought that’s insane. And then my house was attacked the worst. It’s still shocking, still trying to get over it kind of,” Menuchah Schuman told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider.
In December of last year vandals left messages of hate and painted three swastikas on Temple Beth El in Hackensack. A week earlier in Maywood, swastikas were painted on the sidewalk and on the ramp of a temple.
Rabbi Chaim Shapiro, whose Paramus synagogue was attacked last week, said members aren’t scared.
“I’m not asking anyone to be alarmed by this,” he said. “I’m asking people to have a much higher level of awareness.”
“They may have taken advantage of the weak. Similarly what happened in Paramus, low profile, I was told that synagogue you wouldn’t know it’s a synagogue if you pass by,” Rabbi Schuman said.
Prosecutors now want to know if these crimes are connected and leaders in the Jewish community are ready to tighten security, reports CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis.
The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey will conduct a security briefing with the prosecutor’s office, police and even New Jersey’s Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan to help prevent future attacks.
“The most recent one raised the stakes for us because it was personal. Lives were at stake and it’s unacceptable red line for us Jews and Americans,” the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jason Shames told CBS 2’s Dennis.
“This is a country of freedom, and all people should have freedom,” said Margot Brandes of Fairlawn.
“Just the fact that we’re with you, we’re with you and we’re here to help you,” said Maj. Gerald Lewis of N.J. State Police.
As for the attack on Rabbi Schuman, its being called attempted murder, with a vow that the crime won’t go unpunished.
“We will catch these individuals, these depraved individuals, and we will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” said Rep. Steve Rothman.
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