Special Report Affect of Vandalism on Synagogues

Officials of central agencies for Conservative and Orthodox synagogues in New York City, responding to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency survey on the impact of the severe cuts in police and fire protection services in New York City in 1974 and 1975, reported their affiliated congregations had also been compelled to change procedures. But, in contrast to the Orthodox synagogues, no Conservative synagogues had to be closed or abandoned during the difficult periods.

Rabbi Morris Feldman, executive director of the Metropolitan region of the United Synagogue, said he doubted there had been a major increase in vandalism against Conservative synagogues in New York City during the 1974-75 period, adding there were few Conservative synagogues in deteriorating neighborhoods.

But, he said, some of the 176 Conservative synagogues in the metropolitan area had reported difficulties. A notice in the November news bulletin of the regional office said “there has been an increase in the vandalism perpetrated” against affiliated synagogues. The bulletin quoted Feldman as suggesting that every affected congregation consult with its local police precinct to get recommendations on the most effective means of coping with such problems.

A meeting of the Conservative Brooklyn-Staten Island Presidents’ Council at Temple Shalom of Flatbush last Oct. 20 heard a list of recommendations from police officer Anthony Luizzo of the 63rd Precinct on security procedures. The officer recommended surveys of all synagogues by the police crime prevention bureau to determine how safe doors of the synagogue building were, places where the building was vulnerable and on whether a burglar alarm system was needed. He disclosed that each police precinct has a team of officers who visit houses of worship to help protect them from vandalism.

ORTHODOX SYNAGOGUES HIT

Acts of vandalism against Orthodox synagogues in New York City have increased in recent years but “there seems to be no correlation between this and the police cutbacks,” according to David Merzel, community relations director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (UOJCA).

On the basis of replies to questionnaires sent to affiliated synagogues in the New York area, he reported, “in the stable areas of the city, vandalism remains low while in deteriorating areas, the rate is increasing as neighborhoods deteriorate still further.” Merzel said the UOJCA did not have the statistics on how many member synagogues have closed in recent years, “although some have.” He said it was difficult to compile such data because some congregations move to hew neighborhoods “and others slowly die out over a period of time.”

Merzel said it was his impression that the police cutbacks “had little to do with these closings since the neighborhoods had long been deteriorating and the closings were inevitable.” He said the UOJCA office is asked for advice on reducing vandalism and that it recommends burglar alarms, gates or wire mesh on windows, better lighting of the exterior of the synagogue building and similar security measures.

Merzel reported that information was lacking on the precise impact of police cutbacks on synagogue procedures but that “some synagogues provide an escort service for elderly congregants.” He said the UOJCA office had not received any reports of arson attempts on any affiliated synagogues.

VANDALISM, ARSON WIDESPREAD

Rabbi Ephraim Sturm, executive vice-president of Young Israel, an association of Orthodox congregations with more than 100 member synagogues in the metropolitan area, stressed that vandalism and arson in changing New York City neighborhoods “is not confined to houses of worship. In our present moral standards, neither private nor public property is sacred.”

However, he added, he did not believe there had been any significant increase in burglary against Young Israel synagogues in the metropolitan area since 1974. Sturm reported that two Young Israel synagogues, one of which was forced to close in 1970 and one this year, were sold to Black Jews for “pittance” prices.

He said a third synagogue, the Young Israel of Mesilath Yeshurun in The Bronx, was abandoned, not because of vandalism “but simply because there were no more Jews in the immediate neighborhood.” Sturm stated he had not received any reports of arson attempts. He said the Young Israel of the Rockaways in Queens, which is no longer functioning, is now in the process of being sold. Because the building is empty, it has been broken into several times.

He expressed the belief that all the Young Israel synagogues which have ceased to function during the past three years–those in Laurelton and Arverne in Queens, Mesilath Yeshurun and University Heights in The Bronx, and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn–were victims of changing neighborhoods rather than of the cuts in police and fire protection.

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