Congregation Agudas Achim in Bexley sent an email to the congregation Aug. 11, alerting congregants a suspicious individual was allowed into the building for that morning’s services.
According to Bexley Police Chief Larry Rinehart, the administration at Agudas Achim did not file a police report, but alerted police immediately after services that a bald white man with a camouflage-colored backpack attended. Rinehart said the man had tattoos and markings that “were concerning” as they appeared to be similar to the neo-Nazi lightning bolts symbols, though neither Rinehart nor Agudas Achim chief administrator Ari Goldberg could confirm if the tattoos were anti-Semitic in nature.
Goldberg said when he arrived for services, he noticed the man was already seated. Goldberg said he approached him and asked if he was a guest of the shul. The man told Goldberg he wanted to experience a Jewish service.
“He was very unobtrusive (with regard to the service),” Goldberg said. “He sat quietly, ironically enough. He was offered a yarmulke, he put it on, when he went to leave, he put it back. He didn’t say anything, didn’t exhibit any concerning behavior. He looked suspicious, but his behavior was such that he was not disturbing anyone.”
Goldberg said about 15 people attended service Aug. 11, which he said was slightly larger than a typical Sunday minyan due to Tisha B’Av.
“We do have a fairly tight security infrastructure, but at the same time we need individuals in the Jewish community to also, when they see someone, ask questions, report it to the appropriate authorities,” said Goldberg, who also noted most of the Columbus-area synagogues likely have non-Jewish guests. “Just because someone is behaving in a non-threatening way, if we don’t recognize someone then there’s something concerning. It’s incumbent upon all of us to be safe. If you see something, say something.”
Rinehart praised the response of the synagogue and said Bexley police partnered with the shul on security initiatives. The synagogue sent a follow-up email announcing a workshop “Awareness Training for Violent Encounters” that was scheduled for Aug. 21, led by security consultant Fred Bowditch of Bowditch Consulting.
“It’s a very vigilant synagogue,” Rinehart said. “They’re very safety-minded.”
JewishColumbus held a conference call to discuss the incident with Jewish leaders in the Columbus area Aug. 15. The organization has funded armed, off-duty police officers at Jewish institutions in Central Ohio since May.
Congregation Torat Emet in Bexley also said in an email, signed by Rabbi Howard Zack and shul president Dr. Michael Blumenfeld, its staff was “extra vigilant” in light of the incident. Torat Emet’s staff and security committee was also scheduled to meet with Bowditch and Rhinehart, as well as review standards and procedures for its Shabbat security guards.
Emails from Congregation Tifereth Israel and Temple Israel, both in Columbus, also outlined the “ongoing investigation” and provided tips for how Jewish institutions can stay safe.
Bureau Chief Amanda Koehn contributed to this report.