Pa. synagogue shooting prompts local concern
Rabbi of Lexington Park congregation notes ongoing safety efforts with law enforcement
Saturday services at Beth Israel Synagogue in Lexington Park ended before word reached its rabbi and congregation of the shooting deaths of 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, but the impact prompted grief and more gatherings.
“The assault on the Jewish community is a threat to everything that we cherish,” Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen said Tuesday. “It is threatening to Jews, and not only Jews, everywhere. It is horrific. It is un-American.”
Cohen, now in his fifth year serving the synagogue in St. Mary’s, lives in Bethesda.
“We only learned the news after services” on Saturday, the rabbi said. “I didn’t have the opportunity to interact with the members of the congregation except afterward, by telephone and electronically.”
A special interfaith service was held Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Church at St. Mary’s City, Cohen said, and Beth Israel will include recognition of the Tree of Life synagogue deaths during
its regular service at 7:30 p.m. this Friday, Nov. 2, at Beth Israel Synagogue, located at 21780 Bunker Hill Drive in the Patuxent Park community off Great Mills Road.
“We will be saying memorial prayers,” the rabbi said.
Amid mass shootings nationwide last year, law officers and faith leaders met last fall at the church in St. Mary’s City to address concerns and discuss ways to prepare for potential danger, and what to do in worst-case scenarios. About 70 faith representatives from the area attended the gathering, held in the aftermath of a mass shooting in a Texas church where 26 people were killed.
Precautions discussed at the meeting included finding out which parishioners have military or law enforcement training and identifying critical stakeholders, which could be helpful in forming a security team and developing a written emergency plan.
“The sheriff’s office has been very helpful and has taken an active role in the safety of our premises,” Cohen said this week. “It’s nothing new. It’s been [for] a couple years, at least. We’re very grateful to them.”
The discussion with faith leaders has continued, sheriff’s Cpl. Julie Yingling, a spokesperson for the agency, said Tuesday, through email messages “back and forth” and whatever assistance houses of worship need in implementing safeguards.
“They were developing their own strategies” after the group presentation, Yingling said, but “they can reach out to us whenever they want. It’s been an open dialogue ever since then.”
Following Saturday’s shooting in Pittsburgh, “There’s been an outpouring of support from the citizens of the community,” Cohen said, “and we’re very grateful for that solidarity.” Cohen