Bloomfield synagogue attacked with Molotov cocktail, police say
A man, his face mostly obscured by a ski mask, hurled a Molotov cocktail at the front door of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield in an early morning attack on Sunday, Jan. 29, before fleeing the scene, the Bloomfield Police Department said.
There were no reports of injury and the device did not explode when it struck the door, the police said in a statement. As of Sunday afternoon, investigators were still trying to identify and find the suspect.
The attack – coming two days after Holocaust Remembrance Day, when seven people were fatally shot outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem – prompted quick condemnation and concern by local community and religious leaders already troubled over a spike in antisemitic crimes over the last few years. It set off a frantic morning, as the temple hurried to get last-minute word to families that Sunday Judaic study classes had been canceled.
Texts were sent 15 minutes before the 9:30 a.m. classes were scheduled to begin, said Ner Tamid’s rabbi, Marc Katz. He and staff members then scrambled to intercept mothers and fathers as they pulled up to the red brick building at 936 Broad St. to drop off their children. Temple Ner Tamid's congregation includes 540 families, with a large contingent from Montclair.
In an interview with Montclair Local on Sunday evening, Katz said that given the late notice it was difficult to shield the children from what had happened at their sanctuary. While he was grateful, he said, that the incident did not approach the calamity seen in other recent violent attacks, he was also mindful that circumstances could have conspired to make it far worse.
“There is a world where this could have turned out very differently,” Katz said. “If the doors didn’t hold, if the Molotov cocktail was made a little bit differently, if the weather was different, we could be having a very different kind of conversation.”
Montclair schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds, noting in a statement that many Montclair families worship at Temp Ner Tamid, called the attack “unconscionable and grotesque.” He said that security would be increased across the district and counseling offered to any students who felt traumatized by the incident.
Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller posted a statement on social media expressing relief that no one was hurt at the temple.
“But a firebomb thrown at a synagogue is frightening and alarming,” Spiller said. “Just days after Holocaust Remembrance Day we cannot ignore the greater danger of any single attack.”
The mayor said he had spoken with Montclair Police Chief Todd Conforti and that the department “will take any and all necessary steps based on incoming information.”
In a letter to constituents, Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis, who is also the executive director of Out Montclair, said that Temple Ner Tamid was “a place I’ve been welcomed without condition.” He said he would ask the Montclair Police Department to share its plan for stepping up patrols of the town’s synagogues.
U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill released a statement saying she was "heartbroken and angry" over the Bloomfield attack.
"Our Jewish neighbors are beloved community members – friends, loved ones, and leaders,” Sherrill said. “Attacks against them are attacks against all of us, and we all have a responsibility to stand up against antisemitism wherever it rears its head."
David Saginaw, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest NJ, said in a statement that his organization would “continue to work with all partners in the community to stand up to hate, build our resilience and promote safety and security."
The video of the attack, taken at 3:19 a.m., shows a man approaching the synagogue along the long, sloping blacktop driveway holding the device before lighting it and hurling it at the front door, according to a Bloomfield Police Department statement. The glass bottle broke but did not cause any damage to the building, the statement says. At a news conference on Sunday afternoon, Rabbi Katz said the incident was discovered when staff and security arrived for work in the morning.
A short while later, Katz sent a letter to his congregation that he said acknowledged the violence in recent days, including the Jerusalem shooting, the recent mass killings in Los Angeles that claimed the lives of several Asian Americans, and the release of a video showing police officers in Memphis unleashing a fatal beating on Tyre Nichols.
"I talked about the fact that this has been a hard week for a lot of people," the rabbi said. "A hard week for the AAPI community, a hard week for the African American community. And it's been a hard week for the Jewish community."
Alarmed by the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 and later by the killing of 11 people at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, Katz said that Temple Ner Tamid has increased security in recent years.
While not wanting to elaborate, he said that myriad security measures protect the building and congregation. At least one security guard is on duty whenever the synagogue is open, and the windows have a specialized film, which makes them shatterproof, he said.
The rabbi said he expected a "heightened police presence" in the coming days.
Katz told Montclair Local that recent threats to synagogues in New Jersey as well as the discovery in December of antisemitic messages and a swastika defacing a playground at Edgemont Memorial Park in Montclair had both disheartened and hardened his congregation.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “the Jewish community is pretty practiced at dealing with crises and dealing with antisemitism.
“There is a sense that the cycles keep happening, but it feels very, very different when it's your congregation. This feels different, because this is literally our home.”
The synagogue was planning a gathering Monday night, both spiritual and strategic.
“We’re going to come together, and we're going to do some prayer and song,” Katz said, “and then we're going to talk logistics about what we're going to do to keep the community safe.”
Asked what lessons Judaism offers in such a crisis, Katz said that there were many teachings that addressed fear head on.
“The idea that although fear is a part of life, and only by acknowledging and facing that fear, can that fear actually go away,” he said. “So there's a kind of dissonance that you have to hold, on the one hand acknowledging the fear and on the other hand, dismissing it and not letting it cripple you.”
A joint investigation into the Sunday morning incident is underway by Bloomfield detectives, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Bloomfield police said. The department’s public safety division is asking anyone with information to call the Bloomfield Police Department Detective Bureau at 973-680-4084 or email any video to firstname.lastname@example.org.
An earlier online version of this article mistakenly referred to the 2015 church shooting as happening in Charlottesville, Virginia. The shooting occurred in Charleston, South Carolina. Rabbi Katz was alluding to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017