Tacoma has escaped the recent spate of threats and attacks against Jewish institutions across the United States, but local rabbis are keeping a watchful eye.
“We are vigilant as always,” said Rabbi Bruce Kadden of Tacoma’s Temple Beth El.
Rabbi Zalman Heber of the Chabad Jewish Center of Pierce County said his Tacoma facility is secure. He said he has a good relationship with Tacoma police and the local office of the FBI.
“They know us and we know them,” he said.
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Jewish community centers and day schools in at least a dozen states received threats this week, according to the JCC Association of North America. No bombs were found.
It was the fifth round of threats against Jewish institutions since January, prompting outrage and exasperation among Jewish leaders, as well as calls for an aggressive federal response.
“It’s a point of concern,” Heber said of the recent attacks. “Thank God it’s been all false alarms.”
Reports of vandalism across the country include the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. More than 150 headstones were damaged in St. Louis, many of them tipped over.
Kadden is planning a ceremony Sunday at Pierce County’s Jewish burial ground, Home of Peace Cemetery in Lakewood, in remembrance of the synagogue’s cantor who died in 2016. Kadden checked this week to make sure the cemetery had not been vandalized.
Violence against Jews in Tacoma isn’t theoretical for the members of Temple Beth El.
“They remember a time where there were a number of attacks,” Kadden said.
Before Kadden’s arrival, the temple had been shot at by the so-called “D.C. sniper,” John Allen Muhammad, and his accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, in May 2002.
In the four years preceding that, the temple was hit more than 10 times with attacks ranging from arson to a swastika painted on the former rabbi’s car.
Temple members put those events behind them until recently. They soon will be trained in security practices, Kadden said.
“It’s something we probably would have done anyway,” he said. “We’re always looking at these things and being prepared.”
Now it’s more urgent.
“It’s more at the top of our agenda because of what’s happened elsewhere,” Kadden said.
Heber is perplexed by the recent rise in anti-Semitism.
“That’s beyond my understanding,” he said. “Everyone is scratching their heads.”
Instead, Heber focuses on “the light and the unity we can bring.”
“When you have something like that happen, that’s a dark stain on our society,” he said. “The only way to counter that is to turn hate into action, good deeds.”
Kadden is more willing to point fingers. His sermon last weekend was titled, “The rise of anti-Semitism in the age of Trump.”
He doesn’t directly blame President Donald Trump, but said Trump has created an atmosphere that fosters such actions.
“The hateful rhetoric that occurred in the campaign, in a sense, gives permission to those who otherwise may not act on certain beliefs, to do so,” Kadden said.
Trump’s rhetorical attacks on Muslims, immigrants, Mexicans and other groups have not gone unnoticed by Jews, he said.
“Many in the Jewish community recognize when you begin to single out groups like that, it allows others to single out groups they don’t like,” Kadden said.
Trump opened his address to Congress on Tuesday with a condemnation of the recent attacks.
“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said.
Kadden said the president’s statement is a positive step, but added that, more than anything, he would like the culprits apprehended.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.