STL Jewish and interfaith communities express support after synagogue threat

ELLEN FUTTERMAN and JORDAN PALMER

Jewish Federation of St. Louis, as well as several Jewish and interfaith organizations, reacted with promises to combat hate and antisemitism in the wake of the news that a St. Louis man threatened to blow up Central Reform Congregation.

According to a report first published on STLToday.com, the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cody Steven Rush, 29, made three calls directly to the FBI last Friday night stating his intention to blow up the synagogue.

Now, he is in custody awaiting trial on a federal charge that he threatened to blow up CRC. The charging documents also state that Rush claimed to hear voices, and suffers from schizoaffective disorder, PTSD, anxiety, depression and social anxiety disorder.

In regards to Jews, Rush told the FBI, “I hate them with rage.”

On Thursday, CRC sent a note to its congregants explaining that on Friday, Nov. 5, the synagogue was made aware of an incident by Jewish Federation Director of Community Security Scott Biondo.

“The incident is being investigated and Federation Community Security continues to monitor and communicate with CRC administration and clergy,” CRC said in its statement. “Since Friday’s incident there has been no continuing threat.”

CRC staff and clergy also noted that they were asked not to comment further about an ongoing investigation, though Thursday night, the five CRC rabbis issued a letter to congregants reassuring them that all was done by the FBI, the St. Louis Police and Biondo to keep CRC congregants, staff and the building safe.

“Though the individual who made the threat was quickly brought into custody — and we were able to safely hold services in our building over Shabbat — we know how scary this news is for so many in our extended CRC family,” the rabbis’ letter said. “Antisemitism and threats of antisemitic violence have become all too familiar in 21st-century America. And yet we are gratified and comforted by the countless interfaith clergy and community members who have reached out to us with messages of love and solidarity.”

The rabbis also offered to meet with anyone who wanted to “talk or process” what had happened as they described CRC as “a beacon of hope for so many, standing up for the voiceless and living out the mitzvah — the commandment — to bring repair to our broken world.”

According to the charging documents, Rush had told a St. Louis police officer last Friday that he wanted to be arrested and that he would not act until the next morning when he knew that people would be in the building. Police arrested Rush as he sat on the steps of a home on Waterman Boulevard, near CRC.

In a statement issued Thursday, Federation also noted the rise of antisemitism incidents across the country and explained how local Jewish groups are working together to gather the community to stand up to hate.

“In recent weeks, the American Jewish CommitteeAnti-Defamation LeagueHillel International and Louis D. Brandeis Center of Human Rights Under Law have all reported data documenting an ominous increase in hate and that such incidents are disproportionately targeted at Jews. The arrest of Cody Steven Rush is just one more example,” said Richard Jackoway, marketing manager at Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

“Fortunately, during Hanukkah, our Jewish community will be coming together to literally shine a light on such hatred. The Jewish Community Relations Council, ADL Heartland,  AJC St. Louis, National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis and Jewish Federation of St. Louis are co-sponsoring the effort to Shine A Light on Antisemitism in all its forms.” Details about the event will be forthcoming and the Jewish Light will publicize them as soon as they are available.

Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the JCRC, said in an email that her organization had received many phone calls, emails and texts Thursday from local interfaith and intergroup partners asking what they can do to support the St. Louis Jewish community.

“It is heartening to see so much support amidst a scary time,” she said.

Rev. Jim Poinsett of Interfaith Partnership STL wrote:

 “I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the report of the person plotting to blow up Central Reform Congregation and threatening to kill Jewish people. It is difficult for me to imagine the anxiety and distress this must cause for CRC and St. Louis’s Jewish community.

“I wanted to write to make sure you knew that the Jewish community has the support and friendship of Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis. Please let me know if there is anything the Cabinet, IPSTL, or I personally can do to support CRC or help the Jewish community to feel safer in the wake of this troubling, hateful incident.”

 

 

 

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