Bangor’s Congregation Beth Israel beefed up its security protocols in response to a 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead. The Conservative synagogue now locks its doors during services, it has a security committee, and it screens people as they enter the synagogue.
And this past weekend, in the aftermath of a standoff at a Texas synagogue that ended in the assailant’s death, Bangor police stepped up patrols along York Street, the location of two of Bangor’s synagogues, as they have following other high-profile instances of antisemitism nationally and locally.
Leaders from those two Bangor synagogues on Monday expressed their horror at the standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, but voiced their appreciation for the support Bangor’s Jewish community has received in recent years in response to similar events.
“One of the reasons why I’m not riddled with as much anxiety as I could be is because of the cooperation that we get from local government, and especially the Bangor Police Department,” said Brian Kresge, Congregation Beth Israel’s president.
The Bangor Police Department’s patrols over the weekend echoed the department’s response in the past, when Beth Israel was the target of antisemitic attacks, Kresge said.
In June 2020, teenagers spray-painted a swastika on the street outside the temple. Eight years earlier, in 2012, three minors were court-ordered to participate in a restorative justice dialogue with temple leaders after painting both Congregation Beth Israel and Congregation Beth Abraham with antisemitic graffiti.
Kresge said Beth Israel had folded discussion of Saturday’s standoff into its Sunday morning service, and planned to address it again in a Monday night sermon in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Rabbi Chaim Wilansky, who leads Congregation Beth Abraham, said that he was disturbed by Saturday’s events in Texas and that he planned to address it in an upcoming Saturday sermon.
“Every hate that takes place, we have to turn into good action,” Wilansky said, quoting Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a prominent 20th-century Hasidic leader.
The Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights organization that tracks antisemitism, said the Texas standoff was a high-water mark that showed how antisemitism had resurged in recent years following other violent events like the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh and the Poway, California, synagogue shooting in 2019.
“Yet, again, the Jewish community finds itself facing the reality that hateful, violent antisemitism is real, and that we cannot worship peacefully in our synagogues without fear for our safety,” the Anti-Defamation League’s New England regional office said in a statement.
“This is a painful reminder that the American Jewish community continues to be the target of antisemitic attacks fueled by extremism.”
The league recorded 27 antisemitic and extremist acts in Maine in 2020 and 2021, and 8,366 such acts nationwide, according to its Hate, Extremism, Antisemitism and Terrorism map.
During Saturday’s standoff, Faisal Akram demanded the release of Dr. Aafia Sidiqqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who is serving an 86-year sentence at a nearby federal prison for trying to kill U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan. The temple, which had been broadcasting the service before Faisal Akram entered the synagogue, captured and streamed the exchange online until Facebook took the video down.
Faisal Akram’s brother said in a since-deleted Facebook post that he suffered from mental illness and that Akram’s family apologized for and condemned the attack. Greater Manchester police in the U.K. have taken two teenagers into custody for questioning about the attack, which President Joe Biden called an act of terror.
Wilansky said that the dark moment presented an opportunity to bring the community closer together.
“If we’re in a dark room, and we light a candle, what happens? The whole room lights up,” Wilansky said. “We’re always trying to take this leap forward, to do one positive action, even just one good deed, one word, one good thought, and that can make a difference across the whole world.”
“We really need unity to happen across our communities,” he said. “And we thank everyone for the outpouring of love and prayer toward the community during this difficult time.”