BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El was placed on lockdown earlier this month over what turned out to be an accident. A propane tank was set on fire and then a suspicious backpack was discovered at Temple Beth-El in downtown Birmingham on Nov. 4.
“[Police] were able to figure out who it was and they were able to apprehend the suspect and things worked out. It was just a day of anxiety,” Rabbi Steven Henkin said.
But, anxiety is a daily reality for Rabbi Henkin and the Jewish community. Not only here in Birmingham but throughout the nation.
The Anti-Defamation League recorded more than 2,700 antisemitic incidents across the US last year, a 34% increase from 2020 and the highest on record. This disturbing trend is continuing in 2022 and attacks that strike at the heart of the mission Rabbi Henkin feels called to fulfill.
”It feels a little scary and a little unfair”, Rabbi Henkin tells me. “The people who know me know that I am very big on bringing people in and big on bringing the community together. And so, having people who say we don’t like you because of who you are without actually knowing who I am is a little unnerving and a little scary.”
In a recent message, Rabbi Henkin addressed his congregation over the rise in antisemitism and how his congregation should respond to it — calling for more bridge-building and less fear.
”We are not going to fight antisemitism by putting up bigger walls and blocking ourselves off from the community and hoping that by retreating and becoming our own community we will be safe. It’s not going to happen that way,” Rabbi Henkin says. “The way to fight antisemitism is to build bridges to make connections to make allies to have friends who can have your back.”
Rabbi Henkin wanted to thank law enforcement for their response earlier this month and also the interfaith community for the outpouring of support.
Gregory Fuller, Jr. of Birmingham was arrested and charged with arson for setting the propane tank on fire at the temple.