A Lima congregation is expressing gratitude for the response following an incident in which its synagogue windows were shot with a BB or pellet gun last week.
The congregation released a statement through the Jewish community relations council of Dayton on Feb. 12.
“Our congregation of Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek first and foremost wishes to thank all of our friends, family and neighbors who have reached out to us in response to the vandalization of our synagogue,” the statement reads. “The investigation into this incident is ongoing. While we have been advised not to discuss it for the time being, we are grateful to the local and federal authorities who have made it their priority to assist us in this trying time.
“As we come together as a community to address this disturbing act, we ask for privacy while we process what has taken place. We wish for our next steps forward to be confident as we continue to ensure our community’s safety. The outpouring of support makes it clear to us that Jews do indeed have a home in Lima and we can’t thank everyone enough for their continued support.”
The temple is a merged Conservative and Reform congregation.
Lima is in Allen County and about 165 miles west of Cleveland, about 70 miles southwest of Toledo and 75 miles north of Dayton.
U.S. Sen. Robert Portman, R-Cincinnati, tweeted, “These disgraceful, dangerous acts of violence against synagogues and other Jewish institutions must end. I stand in solidarity with the Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek congregation in #Lima.”
These disgraceful, dangerous acts of violence against synagogues and other Jewish institutions must end. I stand in solidarity with the Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek congregation in #Lima. https://t.co/fQ4uQR9uq7— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) February 12, 2019
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, tweeted: “We will not tolerate acts of violence and hatred toward our neighbors. As Ohioans, we stand with Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek and the Lima community in condemning these horrific acts and standing up to hatred and bigotry of any kind.”
We will not tolerate acts of violence and hatred toward our neighbors. As Ohioans, we stand with Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek and the Lima community in condemning these horrific acts and standing up to hatred and bigotry of any kind. https://t.co/gloXEegRpg— Sherrod Brown (@SenSherrodBrown) February 12, 2019
Rabbi Jeremy Pappas, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Cleveland, tweeted: “Disturbing to find 30 gunshot holes at Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek in Lima, OH. At a time of rising anti-Semitism, every incident needs to be taken seriously. Thank you to local police & @FBI for investigating. We are working closely with all involved.”
Disturbing to find 30 gunshot holes at Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek in Lima, OH. At a time of rising anti-Semitism, every incident needs to be taken seriously. Thank you to local police & @FBI for investigating. We are working closely with all involved.— ADL Cleveland (@ADL_Cleveland) February 11, 2019
Noting the Dec. 10 arrest of a Holland, Ohio, man who has been accused of plotting a shooting at Greater Toledo synagogues, Paul Coswin, marketing director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo, said, “The security of the Jewish buildings and institutions in Toledo is an ongoing process and has been for years.
“We condemn any act of vandalism of any houses of worship anywhere,” Coswin said. “We stand in support of them and also are grateful for the law enforcement for responding quickly to this.”
The Lima Police Deopartment confirmed the windows at Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek were the target of a BB or pellet gun shooter.
“Regardless of the cause of the motivation of the person or people who did this, it’s still a serious crime and we want to find out who and why, so we are going to thoroughly investigate this,” Lima Police Chief Kevin Martin said Feb. 12.
“It appeared to be damage caused by a strong pellet gun or a BB gun,” wrote Lima police officer Rachel Scott, who was dispatched to the scene on Feb. 8. “I checked with LPD dispatch for any shots fired in the area the night before and they advised there was none. I spoke with the president of the temple, Constance Hornung, who asked for extra patrol for the business. Constance is concerned that this type of action towards the temple and the people who attend it will continue. It is unclear if this offense was a hate crime.”
While the police report listed the incident as vandalism, a box at the bottom of the page was filled in as a hate crime. The damage was discovered by a temple worker on Feb. 8 and reported to police that night, Sgt. Jason Warren said Feb. 11.
“It’s unclear when the damage occurred,” Warren said. “And we don’t have any suspects at all at this time.
“Juveniles with BB guns is fairly common in our area. It’s unclear exactly what the motive was, but we’re not ruling anything out and are continuing to investigate it.”
Warren said he could not say how many marks were shot into the south-facing windows.
“It doesn’t say exactly how many,” he said, referring to the police report. “I can’t tell from the pictures. There’s several spread across different windows.”
Congregant William Stein said he noticed about 30 marks in the temple’s windows when he arrived for a Shabbat dinner and potluck on Feb. 8.
A Lima resident since 1956, he said he was surprised to see police at Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek when he arrived.
“They were all around the synagogue, but they were up high,” he said of the marks. “They weren’t down low. They looked like they were BB shots rather than bullets because they didn’t leave any holes. They left those marks in the window.”
Stein, a past president and member of the synagogue’s board of trustees, said Jews generally get along well in Lima. He estimated the synagogue’s membership is about 40 families.
“We have a very good relationship here in Lima,” he said, contrasting that with his childhood experience in Cleveland, where he graduated from Glenville High School in 1949.
“I’m guessing it’s kids,” he said. “If it was adults, there would have been a lot more damage than what was caused.”
Rabbi Howie Stein, who lives in Pittsburgh and commutes to the temple twice a month and for High Holy Days, said he could not comment on the incident.
“At this time, we’re being asked not to speak with the media,” he said Feb. 11, citing an ongoing conversation with the congregation. “I’m fielding a lot of calls.”
In a Facebook post that has been deleted, according to JTA, Stein said the synagogue was hit at least a dozen times.
“Friday night, we prayed in a sanctuary with three bullet holes in its windows,” Stein wrote, according to JTA. “Services followed a potluck supper, in a social hall with a minyan of holes in its windows, brought out from a kitchen with twice as many holes in its window. Shabbat morning we found three more holes in the upstairs classrooms, no longer used because of the shrinking and aging nature of the congregation. Thankfully, nobody was in the building at the time, and the damage, while emotionally and physically extensive, was not significant.”
JTA reported the rabbi called on the congregation to use Shabbat to “focus inward, on our own rest and renewal. We must not allow those who hate, and those who act on their hate, to deter us from our cherished beliefs and practices.”
Stein was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 2009. He lives with his wife, Debbie in Pittsburgh, where she works on Israel programming for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Cantor Debbie Bletstein serves the congregation twice a month, commuting from the Detroit area, according to the temple website.