Metropolitan Police Department detectives in Washington, D.C., arrested a man in Toledo, Ohio, on Sunday after he sprayed “an unknown substance” and yelled an antisemitic phrase at two Jews, as they left the Orthodox synagogue Kesher Israel.
“As a precautionary measure, the suspect’s vehicle was swept with no hazardous materials found,” per police. “No injuries were reported.”
The police identified Brent Wood, 33, as the alleged attacker. He is charged with simple assault and resisting arrest. “The Metropolitan Police Department is investigating this offense as being motivated by hate or bias,” it stated.
According to an email the synagogue sent out on Sunday from its president Judah Rose, its office received an anonymous bomb threat at about 5 a.m. “as part of a mass email that also included several other D.C. synagogues, Jewish institutions and groups.”
“The email was believed to be part of a national effort and not unique to our shul or area,” it stated. Synagogue leaders became aware of the threat at about 9 a.m. and called police. Community Security Service was on site too, per the email. Police determined the threat to be non-credible, it added.
“Near simultaneous to the email threat response, at around 9:20 a.m., an unaffiliated individual drove a rented U-Haul van onto the sidewalk directly in front of Kesher’s front door, parallel to the street,” the email added. “Once parked, the man attempted to enter the building. The door was locked, and at no point did he gain entry into Kesher’s facility.”
At the time, the synagogue’s rabbi, Hyim Shafner, was teaching a few congregants in the shul.
“The individual proceeded to accost those leaving the synagogue, spraying a foul-smelling aerosol while shouting antisemitic and conspiratorial statements,” per the email. “MPD arrived on the scene, and the man was identified, arrested and charged with multiple offenses including a hate crime.”
Kesher added that “out of an abundance of caution, bomb squad units arrived at Kesher to conduct a thorough sweep of both the exterior of the building and the van still parked out front.”
“During the investigation, law enforcement closed nearby streets and asked that all residents and neighbors within a one-block radius of Kesher evacuate their homes until the van and its contents were cleared as safe,” it added. “By 1 p.m., the area was cleared of any danger, streets were re-opened, and residents were able to return home safely.” CSS performed an additional precautionary sweep of the interior of the Bayit and the main Kesher building.”
“Unfortunately, today’s climate has increased the frequency of security-related incidents for Jewish institutions around the world, and Kesher is no exception,” it added.
Kesher Israel’s former rabbi, Barry Freundel (1989-2014), was jailed for recording women in the synagogue’s mikvah, or ritual bath. A previous Kesher rabbi, Philip Rabinowitz (1950-1984), was murdered in his home on Feb. 28, 1984. The case remains unsolved.