Newall: Counting stones and broken glass, post election
The night the first stone came through the window, the synagogue was crowded. There was much to celebrate at Temple Menorah-Keneseth Chai that Friday in early December. Ginny and Paul Witte's golden wedding anniversary, for one. To mark the occasion, Ginny and Paul had sponsored the night's Oneg Shabbat, the celebratory gathering after Sabbath services, providing fresh pastries and a chocolate-and-vanilla cake, with the temple's Manischewitz uncorked and ready for a toast.
The night the first stone came through the window, the synagogue was crowded.
There was much to celebrate at Temple Menorah-Keneseth Chai that Friday in early December. Ginny and Paul Witte's golden wedding anniversary, for one. To mark the occasion, Ginny and Paul had sponsored the night's Oneg Shabbat, the celebratory gathering after Sabbath services, providing fresh pastries and a chocolate-and-vanilla cake, with the temple's Manischewitz uncorked and ready for a toast.
There was also the baby naming ceremony for Alma Fisk's great-grandson, Jordan Eli, named in honor of Alma's late husband. The pews in the nearly century-old synagogue in Tacony were filing.
Then the rock, size of a baseball, crashed through a gold-colored window in the sanctuary, shards of glass raining down around Malcolm Adler, the congregation's president, causing all to gasp.
Malcolm's frightened toddler grandson spoke up: "Pops, a rock. What happened? What happened?"
Police were called, a report was filed. Probably kids, the cops said.
Rabbi Robyn Frisch thought that her members had been targeted for being Jews - that the stone was no prank. But she offered words of calm.
"We came here to celebrate," she recalled saying that night. "We came here to pray. If anything, our prayers on this evening should be more fervent - our celebrations more celebratory. We need to be a community now more than ever."
Temple Menorah is not a wealthy congregation. But they rallied - and others rallied around them. A man whose parents had worshiped there donated a new window. Congregants and strangers gave to a GoFundMe account to buy security cameras. Members who'd rarely attended services began showing up again.
Rabbi Frisch reminded the congregation how stones played a beautiful part in the Torah. Jacob had laid his head down on one and dreamed of angels. That was comforting.
The second stones came last Friday. Shortly before the service, Malcolm Adler walked into the sanctuary to find the long curtains fluttering in the breeze. Seven more windows, shattered. The stones littered the red carpet, piling rose-colored and purple and pale- and royal-blue glass.
The police filed another report. This time, reporters and news trucks came, too, Malcolm Adler offering tours.
Kids, likely, said Police Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum. Kids who need a good ass-beating, said Joe Sannutti of the Tacony Civic Association. Indeed, they said, there had been some kids throwing stones at neighborhood homes. But those kids weren't targeting synagogues.
An anonymous donor offered a $10,000 reward. A local glazier has stepped up to replace the windows.
Rabbi Frisch searches for words.
Just that morning she had read an article about bomb threats made against Jewish facilities across the country. Her alma mater, Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, had been defaced with a swastika. Now, these stones.
"There are people who feel emboldened to commit these kinds of hate," she said, "to speak language they might not have before."
For anyone who needs proof, here's some:
Since the presidential election, reports of hate crimes and bias in the Philadelphia area have tripled over that period the year before, says Robin Burstein of the local Anti-Defamation League. From 24 to 74.
Rue Landau of the city Commission on Human Relations said that since Election Day her office has investigated 38 hate crimes. That's more than they usually handle in an entire year.
"I have never seen anything like this," Landau said.
On her desk, she keeps a list called Post Election Incident Summaries. The latest entry: Temple Menorah.
There on Tuesday, as kids in the day-care center downstairs learned their Pledge of Allegiance, Rabbi Frisch pointed to the broken windows and hoped there would be no more stones to count.