Temple Beth Shalom targeted in apparent swatting incident

November 20, 2023
• Temple Beth Shalom was the target of a hoax bomb threat Sunday afternoon, reflecting the rise of antisemitism amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The synagogue received a threatening phone call Sunday, prompting them to contact the police. Needham Fire and the Massachusetts State Police Bomb Squad swept the area, finding no danger, according to a Needham Police Facebook post.

“At this time, we believe the phone call to be a hoax, traditionally known as a SWATTING CALL, and the building has been cleared,” the post read. “We will continue to investigate the origin of this phone call.”

The press release did not name Beth Shalom, only referring to the synagogue as “one of our places of worship.”

Two similar incidents occurred at temples in Hingham and Northampton over the weekend. The Needham investigation is ongoing, and police plan to further check the temple and other religious organizations “for the foreseeable future,” according to their statement.

Temple Beth Shalom in Needham. (Cameron Morsberger)

Upon visiting the temple Monday afternoon, Needham Local observed a police officer stationed near the entrance of the building. A representative from Beth Shalom said the temple does not have a comment.

Beth Shalom’s Antisemitism Awareness Initiative aims to educate and spread awareness by hosting programs and trainings, as well as conducting community outreach, according to its website.

Deputy Chief Chris Baker deferred to the department’s press release and did not provide further comment.

Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick and members of the Select Board released a joint statement on the swatting, stressing their concern for residents’ safety and the importance that locals stay vigilant.

“As acts of antisemitism such as this one continue to rise throughout the world, the Town of Needham strongly condemns all acts of hate and violence here in our own community and beyond,” the statement reads. “The Town strives to make all our residents feel valued and seen and acknowledges our Jewish and Palestinian residents who may feel especially vulnerable in light of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.”

Hamas is holding an estimated 239 hostages captive since the Palestinian militant group attacked Israel Oct. 7, killing at least 1,200 people. Since the violence ensued, more than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian officials.

The conflict has ignited increased incidents of hate against Jewish citizens — antisemitic incidents have risen nearly 400 percent in the United States compared to this time last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League, an American Jewish advocacy organization.

That reality is personal for state Sen. Becca Rausch, a Jewish American whose parents were evacuated in the middle of a bat mitzvah in a different state last weekend.

“This is very real,” Rausch said. “It is incumbent upon not only me and my colleagues who hold elected office and other non-elected leaders in our community, but on everyone to reject antisemitism and do everything we can to not only condemn acts when they happen, because that’s reactive, but to take proactive steps to combat antisemitism, and that includes a deep dive into educational efforts.”

As a member of the legislature’s Hate Crimes Task Force, Rausch said it’s been “heartening” to hear non-Jewish residents offer words of support and compassion. While that outreach “eases the difficulty,” Rausch said more needs to be done.

Gov. Maura Healey recently announced the Hate Crimes Awareness and Response Team, a state police unit Rausch said will “streamline communications” among local, state and federal public safety agencies when it comes to identity-based hate. Former Gov. Charlie Baker also signed the genocide education bill in December 2021.

After the Hamas attack, Rausch co-authored a Senate resolution that condemned the terrorist attack and signaled support for Israel and its right to defend itself.

As holiday festivities approach, Rausch indicated the need for resilience.

“Hanukkah is a holiday of light and hope and love and triumph in dark moments,” she said. “So I encourage all of my fellow Jewish people to find strength in community and to celebrate, especially as so many of our Jewish siblings in other places are not able to.”

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