Area Jewish community gathers to ‘pray together and cry together’ in aftermath of synagogue shooting

Sarasota synagogue comes together to pray, share

Members of the Temple Emanu-El come together to share feelings and thoughts, and pray.
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Members of the Temple Emanu-El come together to share feelings and thoughts, and pray.

Jews across Manatee and Sarasota County have been gathering since Saturday for memorial services, remembering the 11 victims of the largest Jewish massacre on U.S. soil in history in Pittsburgh.

Worshipers gathered again on Monday at Temple Emanu-El in Sarasota, “To come together, to pray together, to cry together,” said Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman.

Glickman said she has been uplifted by the local support of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

“What happened in Pittsburgh is horrible, devastating, an unspeakable and terribly tragedy,” Glickman said. “Every Jew is responsible and bound to one another, so what happened in Pittsburgh, happened to every Jew, everywhere. This is not what America is and this person does not speak for America, Pittsburgh or certainly not Manatee and Sarasota.”

On the love and support of others pouring in, “That’s what this community is. That’s what America is. That’s who Sarasota and Manatee is. This is not a place for hate. There are people who are filled with hate, but they don’t speak for the majority.”

‘Climate’ of anti-Semitism

A week before the shootings, Beverly Newman, a child and elder advocate at the Al Katz Center in Bradenton, wrote this in an essay: “A quiet Jew is a dead Jew.

Newman’s father survived the Holocaust when six million Jews were slaughtered under the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. He spent seven years in a Nazi labor camp. Even before Saturday’s deadly rampage inside the Tree of Life synagogue, Newman was trying to raise concerns about the recent hate rhetoric coming from prominent figures.

“Today’s hate speech is eerily and exactly reminiscent of the verbal climate that maintained mass violence against the Jews in the Holocaust and for centuries before in persecutions throughout Europe,” she wrote.

Newman pointed to the recent comments made by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan when he said he wasn’t anti-Semitic, he is “anti-termite.”

Newman referred to Farrakhan’s comments, noting, “Symbolism is simple: reduce your opponents to sub-human detestable creatures that should be targeted and exterminated.”

It’s hate speech and hate in the hearts of others that makes Newman’s pre-shooting essay almost prophetic and now the most mentioned phrases coming from the Jewish leadership in Pittsburgh and across the nation is, “We won’t be silent, we won’t be broken.”

There were 98 reported incidents of anti-Semitism activities across Florida in 2017, ranging from vandalism, to painting swastikas, to verbal harassment and threats toward Jews.

If there is good news, it’s that Florida is one of the few states where anti-Semitic acts are is the decline, dropping 28 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the Anti Defamation League. In Pennsylvania, where the shooting took place, the state saw a 43 percent increase in incidents while New York saw the highest increase in antisemitism activities, 90 percent.

In the past three years, there have been no incidents of antisemitism or other religious-based hated crimes reported locally, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Bradenton and Palmetto police departments. In September of 2015, someone spray painted satanic symbols at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic Church in Bradenton and in July of this year, vandals targeted the Downtown Ministries warehouse in Palmetto.

Preparing for the worst

In today’s domestic terrorism awareness environment, law enforcement has been proverbially preaching that places of worship are soft targets that need hardening. Law enforcement has been working with local churches to provide them with training for active shooter situations and what security measures can or should be taken.

The demand for this type of training has been on the rise, long before Saturday’s massacre in Pittsburgh.

The July 17, 2015, shooting at a Charleston, S.C., Episcopal church in which nine people were killed; the Nov. 5, 2017 shooting at a Texas Baptist church in which 26 people were killed and 20 wounded; and the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland in which 17 people were killed, have been among the bigger catalysts in the demand for heightened awareness.

“Unfortunately, we have to be aware, but we don’t have to live in fear,” Bradenton Police Lt. Brian Thiers said.

As a standard, law enforcement teaches basic survival skills during active shooter training and it’s no different inside a place of worship compared to schools or businesses. Classes focus on a “Run. Hide. Fight. ” or “Avoid. Deny. Defend.” mentality.

“If you have to defend yourself, defend yourself,” Thiers said. “You have a right to live. Nowhere does it say you have to be a victim.”

Overall the classes teach people to have a heightened sense of awareness and the importance of reporting anything suspicious. When looking at exits or weapons, law enforcement encourages people to think outside the box if they have to in order to survive.

“Any situation you go into. Look around,” Thiers said. “If my life depends on it, how can I get out.”

For many local places of worship, sheriff’s office spokesman Randy Warren said the training provides them the comfort of knowing that they are as prepared as they can be should they ever be presented with a worst-case scenario. In the past year, the sheriff’s office has taught about a dozen active shooting training course at local businesses, places of worship and other groups. About a dozen other courses have been held at the sheriff’s office.

Glickman said Temple Emanu-El has undergone that training.

Manatee County Sheriff's Office looks to educate places of worship on security issues. Bradenton Herald Mark Young

“In talking with leaders of the Jewish community here, Temple Emanu-El has been at the forefront of showing others the protocols,” Glickman said. “We are grateful we live in a free and open society and for the non-faith supporters who wish us well, but in these days being a synagogue, church, mosque or school where good people gather can be a target, we are mindful of our obligations to show some responsibility for those who come to us.”

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump said armed guards could have prevented the tragedy.

Glickman said the president’s comments aren’t a new concept when you look at places of worship outside of the country where security is often tight and armed police officers guard the doors.

“The deeper problem is the people who want to shoot students, Jews, Christians and Muslims and are able to do so,” she said.

While local law enforcement have not yet seen requests for additional presence at local places of worship in the wake of Saturday’s shooting in Pittsburgh, they had already been increasing their patrols and presence atplaces of worship in the last couple years.

“A lot of churches have had security plans in place for quite a while and those who didn’t have since come and taken these courses,” Warren said.

A few churches in Bradenton do opt for off-duty police officers to provide traffic control or armed security, according to Thiers.

The Palmetto Police Department prides itself in maintaining close relationships with religious leaders in the community and officers make it a point of duty to know the schedules and activities at places of worship, according to Police Chief Scott Tyler.

“We try to be present whenever possible,” Tyler said.

Anyone interested in attending an upcoming active shooter training class at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office or to inquire about hosting a class elsewhere can call Crime Prevention at 941-747-3011 ext. 2500.

For training from the Bradenton Police Department, contact Scotty Camacho in Crime Prevention at 941-932-9336 or kimberly.camacho@cityofbradenton.com.

You can follow Mark Young on Twitter @urbanmark2014 and Jessica De Leon @JDeLeon1012.