Temple Isaiah in Lexington now hires police to guard the synagogue during services and religious school, a stark sign of the congregation’s anxiety since an anti-Semitic gunman killed 11 Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh last month.
Just a few miles away, Temple Emunah also has added security since the mass shooting, which Rabbi David Lerner called a devastating example of a more hateful world.
“I thought of America as being different, and I still do,” Lerner said. “But the reality is we had to take special measures to feel safer.”
But in a time of fear and deep sadness for the Jewish community, other houses of worship in Lexington have reached out in support, helping defray the added security costs with generous donations and creating a renewed sense of solidarity.
“We are not in this alone,” said Rabbi Howard Jaffe of Temple Isaiah.
Less than a week after the Oct. 27 shootings, more than 700 people attended a vigil at Temple Emunah. Over the following days, 1,300 people showed up for Shabbat services at the Emunah and Isaiah temples. Then, in a sign that caring is not fleeting, Lerner received a phone call that left him speechless. Chris Needham, a lay leader at the Church of Our Redeemer in Lexington, an Episcopal parish, said he wanted to stop by the temple with a donation, the rabbi recalled.
“I did not quite understand why he wanted to come over with a check,” Lerner said. “And finally, I got it. Their church took it upon itself to help defray some of the additional security costs that we have incurred since Pittsburgh.”
Needham brought a check for $1,400 to Temple Emunah, which Lerner said matched what the church gave Temple Isaiah. “As I shared this with my community on Shabbat morning before the prayer for our country, I noticed that a few of my members were moved to tears,” Lerner said. “We see amazing acts of grace all around us.”
The Rev. Kate Ekrem, rector at Church of Our Redeemer, said the shootings resonated with her in a distressing way. She is a native of Newtown, Conn., where 26 children and staff were gunned down in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“The fact that they had to hire additional security to worship, it broke our hearts,” Ekrem said of the Lexington temples. “These are folks we know. They’re our friends and neighbors.”
Other religious communities in town will be contributing, as well. The idea took flight after this month’s meeting of the Lexington Interfaith Clergy Association, an organization that includes Jews, Christians, Unitarians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs.
“Interfaith cooperation in Lexington has been a wonderful story,” said the Rev. Paul Shupe of the Hancock United Church of Christ, Congregational. In the late 1950s, Hancock opened its doors for a Hebrew school and Shabbat services while Temple Isaiah was being built, Shupe said.
In light of the violence in Pittsburgh, the church hired police officers for the first time to provide security. Their mission: to protect the town’s annual interfaith Thanksgiving service, which was attended by 300 people Tuesday.
“We wanted to reassure everybody in the community that we could do this work together and be safe while doing it,” Shupe said.
For the minister, the need to consider security at all was painful. “It’s a tremendous sadness,” Shupe said. “We’ve always been able to trust that the freedom to worship is sacred and respected by all.”
Leaders at synagogues across the country have been seeking advice on how to bolster their security and, particularly for smaller congregations, weighing whether they can afford greater protection.
Jaffe, senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah, said the synagogue began locking its doors during services about two years ago after “troubling calls’’ and since then has enhanced security incrementally.
Going forward, police will be stationed outside the temple to protect larger gatherings such as worship services and religious classes, he said. Additional training for synagogue staff also is planned.
“We feel concerned and upset that we have to perceive ourselves as a target,” Jaffe said.
Rabbi Lerner at Temple Emunah did not provide details about the extra security at his synagogue, citing the potential danger in disclosing specifics.
Despite those worries, Lerner said the solidarity he feels with Lexington’s faith community has been uplifting.
“These churches said they wanted to do something tangible, to let us know we are not alone,” Lerner said. “We’ve built a lot of connections over the years.”
Those connections have included joint efforts on refugee assistance, transgender rights, hunger, and gun safety.
“I’ve been with Rabbi Lerner at the State House to lobby elected officials for safer gun laws, and I know it’s really close to his heart,” Ekrem said. “They’ve been an inspiration to me on that issue.”
Lerner, too, has been inspired. For the rabbi, Lexington’s response to the Pittsburgh tragedy has been a balm amid the horror.
“This demonstrates that we live in an amazing community where people do care deeply. It’s really powerful for the Jewish community,” Lerner said. “It’s a remarkable moment.”