A “specific threat of violence” at Beth El Synagogue’s Friday night services forced the synagogue to close on Friday, and move Friday and Saturday services online.
The threat was submitted through the ADL Midwest’s incident reporting system. The ADL then notified federal and local law enforcement organizations, as well as the institutions that needed to know.
In an email from Beth El Managing Director Matt Walzer that went out shortly before 3 a.m., all Beth El facilities in the region
were notified, there were indications that the threat may have come from the Twin Cities area. St. Louis Park was also referenced by name.
“Since being notified, we have been in close communication with local and federal law enforcement regarding this matter and they are actively investigating in collaboration with ADL Midwest and the JCRC of Minnesota and the Dakotas,” Walzer said.
The closure includes the synagogue offices and the Aleph Preschool. Friday night services at Beth El are now going to be virtual-only, along with Shabbat morning services on Sept. 11.
“Our community is still vibrant, we’re still serving, we’re still making sure we are there for our congregants,” Walzer said at a press conference on Friday afternoon. Asked about when the synagogue will decide to hold in-person services again, Walzer said Beth El was waiting on the results of the investigation to do so.
ADL Midwest Executive Director David Goldenberg confirmed the details in Beth El’s email.
“Yesterday evening, ADL received a threat directed toward a synagogue in the Midwest region. Since then, we have been in close contact with federal and local law enforcement and our partners in the Jewish community, including the JCRC, Secure Communities Network, and Jewish institutions,” he said in an email. “ADL’s analysts at our Center on Extremist are also monitoring extremist and alt-right online platforms for any additional threats.”
“The JCRC staff is in direct contact with Beth El Synagogue, with local and federal law enforcement,” Hunegs said. “We’re also working closely with the ADL Midwest office and the Secure Community Network. People need to know that we’re working closely with all these important elements of community security.”
Specific details of the threat are not being released as the investigation is continuing. “We’re looking forward to the ongoing investigation, getting to the bottom of this, finding and prosecuting the person who did this,” Spano said.
According to a statement from the St. Louis Park Police Department, they were notified of the posting at approximately 9:15 p.m. Thursday night. “St. Louis Park police officers and investigators began the process of trying to identify the source of the message and whether any related suspicious activity was occurring in the vicinity – none has been identified at this time,” the statement read. “Through the night and during the morning, St. Louis Park police and investigators have been continuing to investigate and information has been shared with state and federal authorities, local community organizations and schools in the area.”
Michael Masters, the executive director of SCN, a Jewish Federations of North America-founded group that is the central organization dedicated exclusively to the safety and security of the American Jewish community, said that the response and proactivity is something that the community should appreciate.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in these threats across the country over the last few years,” Masters said. “It’s the exception, not the rule, when have a day where there isn’t a threat to the Jewish community — especially online. As we deal with the High Holidays and the 9/11 anniversary, it requires us to be more vigilant.”
Spano lauded the close connection between Beth El and law enforcement. “The big takeaway for me right now is the confidence…that our police department and the Jewish community in St. Louis Park have developed, over the years, a tight, tight relationship and coordination around these sorts of threats,” he said. “As tragic as this may be, [the threat] will not diminish the Jewish community.”
Said Hunegs: “We live in a time where there have been years of security planning for the community,” Hunegs said. “It’s important to keep in mind that we’ve grown experienced in dealing with such issues, which are, unfortunately, a reflection of the time in which we live. [Our response] wasn’t invented today or yesterday. We’ve been working on this for a while.”
This is a breaking story that will be updated throughout the day.