NOVEMBER 22, 2018, PEABODY – With Greater Boston’s Jews already on alert after dozens of anti-Semitic incidents in the area – and following the murder of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh temple last month – Peabody police are trying to determine who brought a BB gun to Chabad of Peabody and shattered a window next to the temple’s front door last weekend.
“It’s disturbing, it’s frightening,” said Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman, the spiritual leader of Chabad of Peabody, who arrived at his synagogue early Sunday morning to lead the morning prayers when he discovered that a window had been blown out by a weapon.
Peabody Police Chief Thomas M. Griffin said at least one other window had been targeted in the city by a BB gun last Saturday night and hesitated to call the shooting at Chabad a hate crime. He said any person arrested for the shooting would face a charge of malicious damage over $250, a felony in the state. “We want to make sure that if it was something more than some random kids, we want to put the proper attention to it,” said Griffin. “I don’t want to tolerate any kind of anti-Semitic activity here in the city at all.”
In Massachusetts, state law prohibits a minor from possessing a BB gun in a public place, unless they are accompanied by an adult, or unless the minor holds a sporting or hunting license, or a permit from the chief of police.
After the incident, Schusterman met with Peabody police to review the synagogue’s security. He plans to add new surveillance cameras and motion-activated lights to the temple, which Chabad purchased three years ago. In addition, Chabad will continue its security detail for its Hebrew school and also will allow armed congregants to protect the temple on Shabbat.
“Certainly the fear that people have is real and we’ve got to honor that and recognize it, and recognize that there’s been an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents throughout the country and in Europe,” said Schusterman. “We don’t have the luxury to bury our heads in the sand and be in denial about that fact, because that is a fact.”
Still, he cautioned local Jews not to turn away from their religion. “One of the key takeaways is not to run from Judaism but to run to it. We can’t be afraid, we need to embrace our Yiddishkeit even stronger,” he said.
The Peabody incident followed a wave of other anti-Semitic incidents last week in New England. In Boxford, police are investigating the discovery of three separate cases where swastikas were drawn on the walls of two boys’ bathrooms at Masconomet High School. According to a statement by the school’s top educators, the incidents occurred over the last three weeks.
The discovery marked the second time in two years that the school has faced anti-Semitism. In 2016, a swastika made out of tacks on a bulletin board was discovered on the first floor hallway at Masconomet.
In an email to parents last week, Masconomet High School Principal Peter Delani asked for their help in the investigation. “We will not tolerate hate in any form,” he wrote.
In a statement, Masconoment Regional School District Superintendent Kevin Lyons said that the district has contacted the Anti-Defamation League and initiated conversations with student leaders about responding to the incidents as a “teachable moment.” He said the school district already has an “extraordinary amount” of anti-hate and anti-bias education in its curriculum and student programming.
“Words cannot undo the pain, fear, and horror of any community that feels targeted by acts or words of hate. I feel only compassion for my Jewish brothers and sisters when the hate symbols are clearly anti-Semitic in nature,” said Lyons.
Also last week, at UMass-Amherst, a swastika and homophobic slurs were scrawled on a student’s door at the John Quincy Adams residence hall.
“The words and symbols that the perpetrator of this latest incident chose, while targeted at one person, are an assault on all transgender, gay and Jewish members of our community and are clearly intended to intimidate,” UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in a statement. “Let us not be intimidated. We must stand united in opposition to such ignorance and hatred and remain firm in our commitment to fostering a community of caring, inclusion and tolerance.”