Local Jewish Leaders Share Feelings of Heartbreak after Pittsburgh Synagogue Attack

SACRAMENTO -- The attacks in Pittsburgh awakened painful memories of when three synagogues were fire bombed by white supremacists in Sacramento in the late 1990s.

Several Jewish leaders spoke out about how security has improved in our area, and how the community is reacting to this tragedy.

"Shabbat is a holy day for us, this is a day of thanksgiving, and to wake up to hear that there is a synagogue in Pittsburgh that was under siege was horrifying," said Rabbi Mona Alfi, Congregation B’nai Israel.

Rabbi Alfi says her community is heartbroken.

"To be Jewish is to be part of a larger Jewish community beyond your own synagogue," she explained.

"I’m scared, I’m heartbroken I’m sick, I’m nervous. So I can’t imagine how our friends, families neighbors in this community, in the east coast and Pittsburgh feel,” Willie Recht, executive director Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region, said. "I have a friend whose husband is doing a residency in Pittsburgh. It’s terribly sad.”

But, Recht and Rabbi Alfi says sadly, synagogues in Sacramento already have tight security.

"You know this community is not new to hate crimes. Nineteen years ago there were fire bombings at the congregations here," Recht said.

In June of 1999, B’nai Israel was one of three synagogues firebombed by two white supremacist brothers from Shasta County.

Benjamin Matthew and James Tyler Williams were later arrested and convicted for the attacks and other hate crimes authorities say they committed that summer, including the murder of a gay couple from Shasta County and firebombing an abortion clinic.

“[In] 1991, I was the assistant rabbi,” Alfi remembered.

Since that time, Rabbi Alfi says security has been a top priority.

“It’s something that our board talks about on a monthly basis. And we have, over the last 20 years, constantly improved and strengthened our security around our synagogue, within our synagogue. We work very closely with Sacramento law enforcement," Alfi said.

Founded in 1849, Congregation B’nai Israel is the oldest synagogue west of the Mississippi.

Similar to the attacks here in 1999, Rabbi Alfi says support from other community faith leaders has been greatly appreciated today.

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