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Rosh Hashanah shooting shocks shul

Marc Benayer. (Palm Beach County Sheriff's office)

Marc Benayer. (Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office)

HOLLYWOOD, Fla., Oct. 12 — A dispute between two congregants at Chabad Weltman Synagogue in Boca Raton during Rosh Hashanah ended in the shooting of one and the arrest of the other. While 200 congregants prayed inside the sanctuary on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Marc Benayer, 79, shot Jonathan Samuels in the parking lot. Samuels, 43, had been helping the gunman’s former girlfriend, Marta Pinto, obtain a restraining order against Benayer. Samuels was shot twice in the back at about 1:45 p.m. and was taken to Delray Community Hospital in critical condition. "This was insanity for a Jew to do to another Jew on Rosh Hashanah," said Rabbi Zalman Bukiet, spiritual leader at the Chabad Weltman Synagogue. "I’ve come to the conclusion that I just can’t figure it out. The community was faced with an evil man on a wonderful day. It’s just insanity, total insanity." After Samuels was struck, another congregant approached Benayer and said, "My friend, don’t do this." The man took the revolver, which had no more bullets in it, the police report stated. Benayer is charged with attempted first degree murder, aggravated assault with a firearm and shooting into an occupied dwelling. A third bullet hit a stained glass window on the side of the building. A 2-year-old was hit with a piece of the glass but was not hurt, said Paul Miller, spokesperson with the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office. According to the police report, Benayer was muttering, "He got a restraining order against me. He is the mastermind, the engineer of my destruction. I did not want to kill him. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know." Police records also revealed that Benayer had been involved in a number of domestic complaints with Pinto, 52, since October 2004. A year ago, his former live-in girlfriend complained to police about Benayer’s verbal abuse and asked that he be removed from the home. The officer told Pinto she would have to go through the courts to obtain a restraining order or have him evicted. A month later, she attempted to have Benayer removed again, but the judge allowed him to return to his residence. Benayer moved back in with Pinto and her teen daughter, but told police he feared for his own safety because of his age. According to police reports, the couple lived together until May of this year, but the domestic disputes continued. In June 2005, Pinto told police she was being stalked by Benayer and wanted a restraining order. She was informed on how to get a restraining order, but apparently never did. Pinto works for Samuels at Profab Electronics in Pompano Beach. On the day of the shooting, Pinto was at the same synagogue with her current boyfriend, Martin Fried, also of Boca Raton. Fried, 55, said he and Pinto left 10 minutes before the shooting. "Everyone thought I was the one who had been shot," Fried said. "He had a bullet for each of us — me, Jon, Marta and her daughter. If he gets out on bail, he’ll finish the job. This was premeditated and pre-calculated. He thought it over. No Jew comes into shul on the High Holy Days with a gun. This is the worst sin that could happen, on the holiest of days. If I had stayed, I would be in hospital, along with my girlfriend and her daughter." Rabbi Bukiet said he did not think it was necessary to request security for the High Holidays; however, two Palm Beach Sheriff’s deputies were directing traffic nearby and responded to the shots. Bukiet said he hired security for Yom Kippur and all future services. "Security wouldn’t have changed it," Bukiet said. "It would not have helped. If there had been security outside, perhaps he might have shot inside. He was out to hurt this guy. He was not afraid of anyone. He did it in a public place and he didn’t run away afterward. Security wouldn’t have discouraged a guy with a personal vendetta." Rabbi Bukiet said he knew there was an unhappy relationship between the congregants involved. "But did I think he would hurt anyone? No. I never knew he had a gun." The day after the shooting, Bukiet said there was an impressive turnout on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The community also came out in large numbers the following Shabbat. "To see the whole community come back the next day was an uplifting experience," Bukiet said. "It shows that the community is not going to fall apart because of an evil man. There are evil people in this world. Sometimes you don’t know it until it’s too late. We have to try our best to see the good in creation and life." Due to patient confidentiality, the hospital would not comment on Samuels’ present condition, although Bukiet said it was improving. "The synagogue is behind the Samuels family 100 percent," Bukiet said. "We are praying for them everyday. Whatever it takes to relieve their suffering and pain, the synagogue is behind them. We will get through this and be a better community and better congregation."