'We're not going to hide': Metro Detroit Jewish community vows resiliency after attack

Ferndale — Beneath a 12-foot-tall outdoor menorah on the eighth night of Hannukah, Oakland County Executive David Coulter spoke Sunday of sorrow, fear, light and the horrific attack the day before that left five people injured at a rabbi's home north of New York City.

A ceremony had already been scheduled at Jewish Ferndale, a community center near Nine Mile Road touched by the glow of a 7-Eleven and a Taco Bell. It became a celebration of spirit for some 80 attendees after the latest anti-Semitic attack, this one by a man with a blade in the ultra-Orthdox enclave of Monsey.

A menorah made from ice has all eight candles lit during an outdoor Hanukkah celebration, in Royal Oak, December 29, 2019.

Coulter, who attends a non-denominational Christian church, acknowledged that it was "a profound and sorrowful day." But "when we come together in our light," he said, "we can create a better world."

Light and dark — and vigilance — were persistent themes at the Ferndale event and beyond on Sunday.

"A terrorist can only be a terrorist if people feel terrified," said Rabbi Herschel Finman, co-founder of the neighborhood community center with its spare and graceful menorah made of branches topped by glowing bulbs. "Darkness is pushed aside by the illumination of all of us."

Jews were not the only targets on a post-Christmas weekend. At the West Freeway Church of Christ near Fort Worth on Sunday, police said, an assailant shot and killed two people before he was fatally shot by parishioners.

Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov of Chabad Lubavitch, an Orthodox Hasidic movement within Judaism, was attending a menorah lighting Sunday evening in Royal Oak. He said the overt message of the event was a celebration of Hanukkah, while the undertone was the darkness of the recent attacks.

"The Jewish people are resilient and our community is resilient and therefore our response is to go out to light the flame, to light the candles and to bring warmth to the community," Shemtov said.

Other attacks weighing heavily Sunday night included an early December rampage at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey, that claimed three shoppers, a police officer and the two killers; an April shooting at a Poway, California, synagogue on the last day of Passover that left one dead and three injured; and the October 2018 Tree of Life fusillade in Pittsburgh in which a white nationalist stands accused of murdering 11 and wounding six.

(From left) David Grossman, owner of Pegasus Entertainment, lights a menorah made from ice with Rabbi Moishie Glitsenstein, of the Royal Oak Jewish Center Chabad during an outdoor Hanukkah celebration, in Royal Oak, December 29, 2019.

Michigan has not been immune to incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Its HEAT map — Hate, Extremism, Anti-Semitism, Terrorism — lists 72 circumstances of white supremacist propaganda and 46 other anti-Semitic acts in the state between early 2018 and December.

Those included a neo-Nazi group distributing leaflets in Birmingham, the defacing of a memorial for Tree of Life victims at Eastern Michigan University and swastikas spray-painted in Holly.

After the Monsey slashings, for which a suspect is in custody, Rabbi Aaron Bergman of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills released a letter to his congregation about security and strength.

"We still need to be ourselves publicly and proudly," he told The Detroit News. "My fear is that people will shy away from Jewish events. The most important part is that people not say we can never go outside again. If we do that, the bad guys win."

A few miles away at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, executive director Brian Siegel said security initiatives have been evolving across a number of years. Through the Jewish Federation, which coordinates security, the JCC has "taken a proactive approach," he said.

Bergman said one of the goals of the attackers has been to undermine Jewish groups' strong relationships with other denominations and law enforcement. But the Archdiocese of Detroit took a swift step Sunday to express unity.

In a Sunday message to Catholic clergy and leadership of the Michigan Board of Rabbis, Detroit archbishop Allen Vigneron expressed his "outrage in learning of the violent attack on a Jewish household in New York during their celebration of Hanukkah."

Vigneron has asked pastors in the archdiocese to offer special prayers on New Year’s Day, when Catholics mark the Feast of Mary,  "for the protection of our Jewish brothers and sisters and the eradication of anti-Semitism from our society" and to "reaffirm … that all forms of anti-Semitism are evil and have no place in our community."

At Jewish Ferndale, Les and Liz Kannon said they had defiantly left three menorahs shining in the windows of their nearby home.

"I'm alarmed, but not fearful," Liz Kannon said.

In other parts of the world, her husband noted, Jews are downplaying their identity, to the point of wearing golf caps over their yarmulkes on the way to services.

A member of the group Sunshine Fire Entertainment uses fire to entertain the audience during an outdoor Hanukkah celebration, in Royal Oak, December 29, 2019.

"We're not going to hide," he said.

Outside, after the lighting, the menorah gleamed. Three boys in winter coats roughhoused, laughing as they bumped shoulders.

Indoors, singer-songwriter David Nefesh Mittleman claimed his fee for leading everyone in a Hebrew rendition of "Rock of Ages": three latkes. Applesauce was plopped on the traditional potato pancake, popcorn popped, and an infant crawled perilously close to the basement steps before his mother snatched him away.

In the downstairs library, an Orthodox Jew dressed in black discussed theology with a man in blue jeans.

Life went on.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Twitter: @EvanJamesCarter