Rabbi Burned By Explosive At NJ Shul; DA Calls Attack Attempted Murder


Firebombs thrown through the second floor bedroom window of a northern New Jersey rabbi landed on his bed early Wednesday morning, setting his blanket ablaze.

He was able to extinguish it before fleeing the building with his wife, five children and his parents.

The home is attached to Congregation Beth El, an Orthodox synagogue in Rutherford, N.J. Authorities said the attack, which occurred at about 4:30 a.m., was targeting the rabbi, Nosson Schuman. The Bergen County prosecutor, John Molinelli, said the case would be treated as an attempted murder.

The rabbi, who suffered burns to his hands, later told reporters: "This must have been a continuation of the hate crimes that have been occurring throughout the area."

He was referring to three other hate crimes against New Jersey synagogues in the last month. The most recent was a suspicious fire last week at

Congregation K'hal Adath Jeshurun of Paramus and anti-Semitic graffiti scrawlings on two other New Jersey synagogues last month in Maywood and Hackensack.

Rep. Steve Roth (D-N.J.) said in a statement that he has "contacted the offices of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, to demand immediate action."

"This is not Damascus or Baghdad," Roth said. "Residential communities like those here in New Jersey should never be attacked. I demand that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office pool all of their resources with the outstanding Bergen County prosecutor's office and Rutherford Police Department to solve this crime."

The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey has called for a meeting tomorrow night of law enforcement officials, synagogue representatives and Jewish communal leaders to discuss what occurred and what steps to take to stop it.

Mordechai Levy of the Jewish Defense Organization said his members would begin patrolling the area to safeguard synagogues.

But Etzion Neuer, acting director of the Anti-Defamation League's New Jersey office, said he is against such patrols.

"There is no question that the Jewish community has a role to play in keeping things safe, but the last thing we need is an extremist organization like the JDO involved," he said.

Jason Shames, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, said it is necessary for "cool rational heads to figure out how to help in the investigation and to secure ourselves for the long term. There is no way we are going to get involved in putting armed people on the streets."
Neuer said his office is encouraging people to maintain their normal routine but to be extra vigilant.

"We hope that on Shabbat people will go to synagogue as they usually do," he said. "We hope they continue to go to the Israeli dance at the JCC and that mothers and fathers continue to take their children to day schools and pre-schools as they normally do. At the same time, we hope people will have an extra awareness of their surroundings."

Although Neuer said authorities do not yet know whether the four incidents are related, "we see this as four synagogues targeted in the same geographic area [Bergen County] within a month. I think we can be forgiven for seeing a relationship between all of these incidents. …
"When I heard of this morning's incident I was chilled. I thought of Mississippi in the civil rights era and not Bergen County in 2012. The idea that a clergy member is awakened by a firebomb thrown through his window and he and his children are almost burned to death is a chilling notion I thought we'd seen the last of decades ago."

Authorities said there is evidence that this morning's attack involved the use of five incendiary devices and that at least one crashed through the rabbi's bedroom window.

"It's not an easy throw to make," Neuer said, noting that police believe the firebomb was thrown from the ground.

Although authorities said they have more evidence to work with from this morning's attack than from the other three, there is no indication that any of the synagogues were equipped with surveillance cameras.

"This is a source of ongoing frustration for us," Neuer said. "We understand the limited resources of many of our houses of worship, but these incidents are proof that this is a matter of communal prioritizing. I would humbly suggest that synagogues forgo the next hot Kiddush and spend the money instead on security cameras. These events ought to be a clarion call for communities to take whatever steps they can to make their institutions safer. It's not just about pews and parchment, it's also to protect lives."

The ADL is now offering a $2,500 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators. Authorities said they would be charged with attempted murder. The Bergen County prosecutor's office asks that tips by phoned into its tip line: 201-226-5651.

In the past month, synagogues have been attacked in Paramus, Maywood and Hackensack. Police are unsure if the attacks are related.

Molinelli held a news conference Wednesday to talk about the recent attacks.

A previously scheduled meeting involving law enforcement and representatives of 80 synagogues and Jewish day schools to discuss enhanced security measures in the wake of the attacks will be held Thursday.

"This is getting out of control, this is so troublesome,'' Joy Kurland, director of Jewish Community Relations for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, which is organizing the meeting, told The Record. "This is beyond comprehension that someone could do such horrible harm to a rabbi and his family."

JTA contributed to this report.