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Local Jews alarmed by terrorist threat

Incident prompts reviews of security

By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / October 31, 2010

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Some local Jewish leaders, shaken by Friday’s interception of two packages containing explosives bound for Chicago synagogues, pledged to step up surveillance in case their organizations are also targeted.

“We are not naive, and our institutions are prepared, but it is the unknown and the uncertainty of the unknown,’’ said Nancy K. Kaufman, executive director of The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, an umbrella group for 42 Jewish organizations. “It was very specific and targeted, and it was real. That is why it is so troubling and frightening.’’

The packages were shipped from Yemen, where an Al Qaeda offshoot appears to be gaining power, and were intercepted on cargo planes in Dubai and Britain that were headed for the United States. President Obama deemed them a “credible terrorist threat,’’ and British authorities said yesterday that the explosive device they found was powerful enough to bring down the plane.

Logan officials are being vigilant but are not changing any procedures because of the discoveries, a MassPort spokeswoman said yesterday.

Local Jewish leaders, many of whom learned of the threat hours before Friday night Shabbat services, stressed that there was no local threat.

“But it is an unfortunate and cold reminder that Jews are often targets for hate and violence,’’ said Derrek L. Shulman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, New England Region.

The incident prompted Shulman to send out a reminder to Jewish synagogues and groups to review procedures for handling suspicious packages and to establish or reestablish relationships with local law enforcement to discuss security.

“There is no panic, but it is understandable that all members of the community should be alarmed . . . not just for Jews but for all people who strive to have shared community respect,’’ Shulman said.

At Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley in Lowell, a member of the congregation brought up the issue as part of a prayer that often focuses on recent catastrophes, such as the Haitian earthquake, an office worker said.

David B. Kudan, rabbi of two congregations in Malden — Congregation Agudas Achim-Ezrath Israel and Temple Tifereth Israel — said people were still absorbing the news and trying to understand the full story. He said the threat is hardly new — he recalled heightened concerns around the first Gulf War.

Yet in the past, Kudan said, “there has been an element of randomness’’ to targeting Jewish groups in the United States, so last week’s “target of specific congregations is a cause of concern.’’

“But as we live with the reality that there are those who would like to harm us, we don’t want to let ourselves become obsessed,’’ he said “ . . . We need to strike the right balance between openness and vigilance.’’

At Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield, Rabbi Josh Breindel set aside time before Torah study to discuss the issue.

The 15 people present had a productive discussion, Breindel said, with a “fairly unified perspective that this was a shock, an attack, yet they were very pleased the bombs were found, of course, and proud of the international cooperation.’’

But they also came to a beautiful conclusion, he said: “When people are trying to scare us, that is when we need to continue with our faith and our lives.’’

Beth Daley can be reached at bdaley@globe.com

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