A suburban Columbus synagogue sent an email to the congregation Aug. 11, alerting congregants that a suspicious individual was allowed into the building for that morning’s services.
According to Bexley Police Chief Larry Rinehart, the administration at Congregation Agudas Achim in Bexley did not file a police report, but alerted police immediately after services that a bald white man with a camouflage-colored backpack attended. Rinehart said the man had tattoos and markings that “were concerning” as they appeared to be similar to the neo-Nazi lightning bolts symbols, though neither Rinehart nor Congregation Agudas Achim chief administrator Ari Goldberg could confirm if the tattoos were anti-Semitic in nature.
Goldberg said when he arrived for services, he noticed the man was already seated. Goldberg said he approached him and asked if he was a guest of the shul. The man told Goldberg he wanted to experience a Jewish service.
“He was very unobtrusive (with regard to the service),” Goldberg said. “He sat quietly, ironically enough. He was offered a yarmulke, he put it on, when he went to leave, he put it back. He didn’t say anything, didn’t exhibit any concerning behavior. He looked suspicious, but his behavior was such that he was not disturbing anyone.”
Goldberg said about 15 people attended service Aug. 11, which he said was slightly larger than usual due to Tish’a b’Av.
“We do have a fairly tight security infrastructure but at the same time, we need individuals in the Jewish community to also when they see someone, ask questions, report it to the appropriate authorities,” said Goldberg, who also noted that most of the Columbus-area synagogues likely get non-Jewish guests. “Just because someone is behaving in a non-threatening way, if we don’t recognize someone then there’s something concerning. It’s incumbent upon all of us to be safe. If you see something, say something.”
Rinehart praised the response of the synagogue and said Bexley police has partnered with the shul on security initiatives.
“It’s a very vigilant synagogue,” Rinehart said. “They’re very safety-minded.”