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When a Molotov cocktail thrown at your synagogue scrambles your Sunday

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Our Sundays here in a comfortable New Jersey suburb are often structured around how many times we have to shuttle back and forth to the synagogue. 

Today we were meant to bring our 15-year-old daughter there by 9:30 a.m. for her weekly gig babysitting the small children of a woman studying for her adult bat mitzvah, then return to pick her up at 11. The husband was headed to shul at 2 p.m. for Purim spiel rehearsal (he’s the director). And I had to remember to ask one of them to bring home the Dutch oven I’d dropped off on Friday with veggie chili I made for this weekend’s study Shabbaton. 

Instead, we got a staccato text message at 9:20 a.m.: “Religious school is closed today due to an act of antisemitic vandalism at 3 a.m. last night. Police are investigating. No one is hurt, No major damage. Check email.”

Surveillance cameras at the synagogue, Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, had caught a man approaching the entrance from the parking lot, the way my kids and I have a thousand times. They showed him lighting a bottle on fire and throwing it at the front door. 

“The fire went out on impact, there is no visible damage to the building, and the door is secure,” said the congregational email blast that landed in inboxes at 11:11 a.m. “All activities at the synagogue are canceled for today and the police will be maintaining a 24-hour presence for at least the next week.”

For all the reports of spiking antisemitism, a Molotov cocktail being thrown at a synagogue is not very common — it’s happened before, but is not something you see every week or month in the U.S., according to the Anti-Defamation League’s tracker of such incidents. The timing is especially troubling: Two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day and a terror attack in Jerusalem that killed seven people as they left Shabbat services. Two months after an FBI warning of a credible threat against all New Jersey synagogues.

It’s hard to know, frankly, how scared to be. “I’d like to think this is not a warning, honestly; very frightening,” wrote one friend on my mom-text group. 

“Agree coulda been worse,” said another. “AND it’s disgusting and pathetic and infuriating — so stupid and depressing.” 

“All things considered, it’s as good a version of the situation as it can be,” said a third. “But still, so ugly and awful.”

Meanwhile, my daughter, Shayna, was debriefing on the phone with a friend who volunteers Sunday mornings helping the second-grade teacher, thinking about how the little kids would absorb the unsettling news. 

Shayna is supremely rational and resilient. If this makes you more scared, she said as we drove to our favorite brunch place for shakshuka since she didn’t have to babysit, it just means you had an unrealistic view before of how much hate there is in the world. She sees tidbits on TikTok about antisemitic and racist and homophobic hate speech and vandalism practically every day. And there was that FBI warning in November.

Shayna also thought it was pretty dumb to throw a Molotov cocktail at the door at 3 a.m. when no one is at the synagogue — certainly a lot less scary than an attack during the day when kids are on the playground just off the parking lot. But another teenage friend, who works as a song leader on Sunday mornings, was deeply rattled by the incident, probably because she was dropped off at the synagogue before the text-message landed.

There were four police cars on site, she told me, along with the synagogue’s security team and other leaders. The religious school teachers were all there, some of them sobbing. She started crying, too. People she had never met before were hugging her and offering rides home. 

This is how terror works, in Israel and in our comfortable New Jersey suburbs. The point is to make us terrified to do the things we normally do, the things we need to do, to be our full Jewish selves. 

My kids think of the synagogue as something of a second home. It’s where they eat pizza with their closest friends on Wednesday nights before confirmation class with the rabbi. Where we sing together in services, and where I used to run a little pop-up brunch cafe. Where only a few weeks ago the four of us got to participate in the incredible mitzvah of adding a few flourishes to a new Torah scroll. 

Where they should be safe. But after last week’s mass shootings in California and violence in Israel, after the release of the horrific police beating video in Memphis, is there anywhere safe?

The husband moved spiel rehearsal to the home of one of the show’s stars. She has a piano, and plenty of space. I’ll have to go pick up the Dutch oven tomorrow.

The post When a Molotov cocktail thrown at your synagogue scrambles your Sunday appeared first on The Forward.