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Jewish Institutions Raise Vigilance

My Central Jersey

Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky (right) makes Havdalah at the Chabad Jewish Center in Monroe, NJ.

The shootings at a Jewish school in France have schools and houses of worship in New Jersey looking again at their own security precautions, already at a heightened level for years because of threats against Jewish communities worldwide.

Police departments said they are increasing their presence around Jewish institutions, while administrators said the Toulouse attack has them again reviewing their own emergency planning.

“We have increased patrols of the Jewish schools and facilities in town,” East Brunswick Police Sgt. Kevin Zebro said.

The beefed-up patrols are being conducted as a precaution, he said.

“We want everyone to be safe and feel safe,” Zebro said.

Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky of the Chabad Jewish Center in Monroe said the shootings in France are tragic.

He said that he received a call from his sister-in-law who lives in France about 4 a.m.

“It really hit us like a ton of bricks,” he said. “We’ve been on the phone counseling her. It’s very disheartening, especially since there hasn’t been any closure on this yet. The guy is still on the loose. It’s not going to deter us, but it definitely causes us to be more vigilant, more careful and more on the lookout.’’

Zaklikovsky’s sister-in-law, Shaina Matusof, and her family live in Toulouse. She is the daughter-in-law of Yosef Matusof, the dean of the elementary school where the children who were fatally shot attended.

Shaina moved to the southern community in France from Monroe last summer. She served as program director for the Chabad Jewish Center for four years and taught in the Hebrew school for two years.

She said she first heard about the shootings from a reporter.

“I was in my in-laws’ house,” she said. “They had gone to work that morning and I got a phone call from a reporter asking about the shooting at the school. I immediately called my sister-in-law, whose child goes to the school and witnessed the shooting. She didn’t know how her daughter was or any details.”

Shaina said things were uncertain for the first few hours, but details soon emerged about the shootings.

“Everyone was terrified to leave the house and we still are scared,” she said. “The shooter is still loose and no one knows where or what he will do next.”

Shaina said community members are concerned about what will happen on Friday, if not sooner, because he seems to strike every four days.

“There is a lot of police everywhere — unmarked cars, marked cars and policemen everywhere, including at both schools,” she said. “In order to get anywhere near the schools, you have to walk through a few police checkpoints.”

The mood in the community is one of shock and fear, she said.

“There is a lot of pain going on, but there is also an extreme sense of unity,” she said. “Everyone is in this together. Everyone feels the pain — not just the families that lost loved ones. It’s a community as a whole that lost loved ones. It’s also a sense of determination. We’re not going to let this bring us down.”

Shaina said the woman who lost her two children and husband requested that everyone perform an act of kindness to honor the memory of her family.

“That’s everybody’s mindset now to do the best they can to add light to this darkness,” she said.

Shaina said that on Tuesday the middle school was closed and a service was conducted there. A moment of silence was held at all schools in France at 11 a.m., she said. The elementary school was open and students were greeted by grief counselors.

Gerrie Bamira, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, said the federation is shocked and outraged by the attack.

Bamira said the federation regularly hosts security briefings for the Jewish community.

She said a security forum conducted just a few weeks ago brought together law-enforcement officials and leadership from Jewish institutions and synagogues.

“We discussed how to make sure Jewish institutions are secure and what to do if there is a problem,” Bamira said. “We have regular security briefings and also remind institutions by email to set up security when something like this happens. We keep the community apprised of what needs to be done and remind them to be aware.”

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