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Santa Maria synagogue responds to recent NYC Hanukkah attack and rise in anti-Semitic violence

temple beth el
A Santa Maria synagogue reacts to this weekend's knife attack at a New York City Hanukkah party, as well as the recent rise in anti-Semitic violence. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- A recent attack at a Hanukkah party in New York City is drawing reaction from a Santa Maria Jewish synagogue.

"Our hearts go out to the victims and the families of the synagogue stabbing in New York," said Temple Beth El President Suzanne Levy. "It doesn't matter where it is or who it is too, we're concerned that there is increased violence on all different types of minorities groups."

On Saturday night, a machete-wielding suspect injured five people who were celebrating Hanukkah inside a rabbi's house.

Levy said Monday she wasn't shocked about the attack, pointing out the recent surge in anti-Semitic violence happening nationally, as well as globally.

"I think everyone at the Temple, having been raised with the stories of the Holocaust and being so aware of how Jews have been persecuted in the past are not extremely surprised. It's another form of persecution," Levy said. "Now we have this kind of violence now. It's not that we expect it, but we're not surprised by it."

An article in Monday's Washington Post states there were 1,879 incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States in 2018, including more than 1,000 instances of harassment. The numbers come from the the Anti-Defamation League.

"It's heartbreaking to see the rise of anti-Semitism," said Levy. "It seems like when people are unhappy in their current situation, they reach out to scapegoat and it's been the Jews many times throughout history and it seems like that is repeating itself right now."

With anti-Semitism on the rise, Levy said the Temple is being proactive with increased security measures.

"We've all been more vigilant about our own person safety, so we've made some improvements to our Temple by installing security cameras and by reviewing our policy with who has keys and making sure everyone knows where all the exits are, said Levy. "We've applied for a grant with the Homeland Security Department to improve our border security and lighting and more cameras."

She added the Temple also has recently made dramatic changes to its landscaping, removing thick bushes and shrubbery that used to surround its building.

The landscape changes make the building highly visible from the street and reduces potential hiding places, which creates a safer environment for congregants.

On Sunday, Temple Beth El held one of its largest gatherings of the year to celebrate the final night of Hanukkah.

Levy said what happened on Saturday was definitely on the minds of people that were in attendance.

"We had a big Hanukkah and a number of congregants got in touch with me to ask what our security was going to be regarding (Saturday) night," said Levy. "The local police department is always informed when we're going to have a big gathering so they can step up the patrolling of the area and we had congregants volunteering to be near the front door to be aware of anybody pulling up to the building so we could monitor what was happening."

Levy added that anytime the Temple hosts a large gathering, the Santa Maria Police Department is notified so it can provide increased patrols in the surrounding neighborhood.

She also said that no matter what, Jews will remain strong in their faith and will continue to live their lives as normally as possible.

"We're still strong," said Levy. "We're still going to keep doing and we're going to move on and the only thing we really change about ourselves is just our local and personal security to try to keep ourselves safer, but otherwise we keep doing what we're doing."

Community / Crime / Holidays / Safety / Santa Maria - Lompoc - North County
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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.

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