Frayed nerves and armed security: CT Hanukkah events on high alert
Hanukkah events across Connecticut are on high alert this weekend, amid a huge spike in antisemitic threats during the Israel-Hamas war.
To keep crowds safe, Jewish groups and synagogues are bringing in extra police and even armed security.
"THEY NEED THIS"
At Latham Park in Stamford, the candles are set for the Jewish Festival of Lights. But this Hanukkah comes two months after Hamas terrorists killed more than 1,200 people in Israel. More than 130 hostages are still being held captive.
"They need this," said Rabbi Moshe Shemtov, of Stamford Chabad. "We all need it."
Rabbi Shemtov is organizing a Hanukkah Parade for Saturday night, followed by a public Menorah lighting the next day.
But he said many followers are afraid as tensions reach a boiling point over the war in Gaza, which has killed an estimated 16,000 Palestinians.
On Thursday, a gunman fired two shots outside a synagogue in Albany, New York. No one was hurt. Mufid Fawaz Alkhader, 28, appeared before a federal magistrate Friday morning on firearms charges. But Alkhader could also face additional hate crimes counts.
"We were told by responding officers that he made a comment, 'Free Palestine,'" Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins told reporters.
ARMED SECURITY, MORE POLICE
Compared to last year, security will be extremely tight at both events in Stamford – including armed security guards.
"And the armed guard is a different armed guard than a year ago," said Shemtov. "Our security posture is at its highest level."
You'll also see a lot more police officers this weekend. But the work you can't see might just be the most important.
"We want people to understand that, even if they don't see us that we're still working hard," said Lt. Brendan Phillips, with Stamford Police's patrol division.
In addition to visible patrols, Phillips said officers are monitoring online chat rooms. They're also sharing information with Connecticut State Police's new Hate Crimes Task Force-– which, in turn, coordinates with New York State Police.
Soon, houses of worship and non-profits will also have access to $5 million to fund security upgrades. The State Bond Commission is set to approve the money next Friday.
"It is relieving, especially in times of heightened tensions and increased reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia, that this funding will continue to protect and support houses of worship across our state," said state Sen. Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor). "Everyone should be free to practice their religion without interference or threat."
SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING
But authorities best tool is you. "If you see something, say something."
"Anything that is suspicious to you, that you typically wouldn't see when you're surrounded by your community members," said Phillips. "The most obvious are suspicious packages or people that don't seem to fit in the area, that are walking by, taking a lot of concern to what's going on, but not participating in the event."
Despite the blue ribbons marking Israelis still held hostage by Hamas, Rabbi Shemtov said Jews will celebrate at Latham Park.
"We're going to dance and we're going to rejoice," he said. "We have to do it because we need it."
A "need" to shine a light – or nine of them – in a time of darkness.