Citing the killing of Israeli citizens in Bulgaria, growing unrest in the Middle East, and potential threats to the United States from Iran, federal law enforcement agencies briefed Long Island religious leaders Tuesday about potential threats directed at the Jewish community.
The private security meeting, held at Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, was engineered by Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Steve Israel (D-Huntington), both of whom suggested that it was important for Jewish leaders to understand the nature of possible threats that came out of a classified briefing to lawmakers in Washington D.C.
“I can’t say what I learned at that classified briefing, except to say that it compelled me to make sure that my constituents understand the nature of the threat, and plan accordingly,” Israel said before the meeting. “It’s better to plan than to panic.”
During the meeting, which was closed to the media, religious leaders were expected to receive high-level briefings from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI about “common sense steps” religious institutions can take to keep worshipers safe, Israel said.
“There’s a large Jewish population on Long Island,” said King, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security. “Congressman Israel and I think it’s important… to make sure the Jewish community and Jewish leadership realizes that these threats are there, and…to let them know the type of security that’s going to be provided, the lines of communications they should set up, who they can reach out to if they hear any rumor” about a potential threat.
Also in attendance was Nassau County police Deputy Inspector Joe Magrane, commanding officer of tactical operations, who said security was stepped up at religious buildings throughout the county following Saturday’s attack at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin that killed seven, including the shooter.
Israel called the tragic massacre of six people by a lone gunman inside a house of worship “a blinking yellow light for all religious institutions.”
Though the nature of the threats from the classified briefing are unclear, King pointed to the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, and the killing of five Israelis in Bulgaria as reasons why religious leaders should be alerted to what’s going on around the world.
Residents shouldn’t be embarrassed to reach out to police, King added.
Midway Jewish Center Associate Rabbi Josh Hearshen greeted the two lawmakers before the meeting and noted that threats directed at the Jewish community are nothing new.
He said hatred doesn’t just sprout up from nowhere.
“Hatred is a learned behavior…throughout [people's] lifetimes they grow and learn this hatred,” he added. “You can also learn to love just as easily, unfortunately people choose the easier one, which is hatred.”
“There’s so much more that unites us than divides us,” he continued, “and it’s a pity that people focus on the divisions, especially in a country as great as our country.”