In the wake of a knife attack at Chabad-Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights, elected representatives debated whether sufficient security measures were in place for local houses of worship. A tension emerged between a desire to keep such institutions open to the public and the need to ensure the safety of those inside.
“When someone walks in to a house of worship with a knife, in the time it takes for police get there, there could be a tragedy,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) at a press conference convened Tuesday afternoon. “Maybe it is time to take a look and see what can we do within our synagogues [and other houses of worship] to have more security.”
Rabbi Michael Miller, head of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, agreed.
“A synagogue should be a place of safety,” Miller said. “A place of pray, not a place to be prey. A place for studying, not for stabbing. Measures should be taken to ensure the safety of all who come.”
But Borough President Eric Adams, recalling the message and mission of the late “Rebbe” Menachem Mendel Schneerson, disagreed.
“We should keep in mind that it’s a symbol of freedom to have it [770 Eastern Parkway] open and accessible,” Borough President Adams said. “The Rebbe dreamed of spreading Judaism across the world. He would not want it placed in a box. 770 is a free flowing institution, and is going to remain that. It’s critical.”
Instead, Adams called for increased security patrols at places of local worship, and a further focus on allocating resources to treat emotional and health disorders. But Hikind worried this would be insufficient.
“Even with heightened protections following an incident like this, everything is back to normal in a week or so,” Hikind said. “Maybe we should start finding ways to take responsibility for ourselves.”
The Lubavitch headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway is open to the public 24 hours a day, which left Devorah Halberstram (the mother of Ari Halerstram, who was killed in a terrorist attack on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994), searching for a sense of reassurance.
“Hundreds of children come to the Jewish Children’s Museum right across the street, and even more come to 770 to worship,” Halberstram said. “As mothers, this is where we feel the most safe about sending our children. To feel that someone cane come in and infiltrate these sacred and safe places is so troubling. I want to be able to tell mothers not to worry.”
In the meantime, officials also took strides to convey a sense of unity, despite any disagreement in strategy moving forward.
“It’s imperative that this community, which has traveled through some difficult roads, stays united,” Adams said. “We’ve traveled too far to allow some person who is deranged to derail the community. We’re one community and we’ll ensure the continuity of this community will prevail. Those who would like to see this community divided won’t.”
“Do not sensationalize and do not exploit this incident,” said Council Member Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn). “This is not like other cases nationwide. However, it’s not a footnote either. We cannot allow the situation to further divide the community. It seemed the police had done their best in entering into a very dangerous situation.”
“The response from political leadership and the police department has been exemplary, from the Mayor to the Comptroller to the District Attorney.” added Rabbi Eli Cohen of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council.