West Hartford synagogue, JCC add security after suspicious visitors

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WEST HARTFORD — Security at the Mandell Jewish Community Center and local synagogues has been increased after a suspicious pair attended events this weekend.

In a letter to parents of children who take part in programs at the Mandell JCC, officials said two women, who were unknown to the synagogue congregation came in the  during Saturday morning services, dressed in “conspicuous attire.” The woman were also present at Sunday’s Chabad menorah lighting in Blue Back Square. The letter said police spoke with the women and said there was no risk to the community, but the synagogue asked police for enhanced security as a precaution.

The Hartford Courant reports an email sent to the congregation of Emanuel Synagogue by President Sheila Silverman said that two women dressed in caftan robes and headscarves were acting “out of the ordinary” after attending the end of Shabbat services on Dec. 5.

The email states that the women sat toward the front of the sanctuary and left shortly after providing “vague and conflicting answers” to members’ basic questions about where they were from or their interest in the synagogue.

JCC leaders said increased staff will be on hand during morning drop off to help with traffic and visitors.

“Here at the Mandell JCC, safety and security is a high priority,” the letter went on to say. “As an organization, we are in touch with local state and federal law enforcement officials, and receive security and training guidelines from them, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Jewish Community’s Secure Community Network. We use these resources for security audits and staff security training, with added focus on specific departments based on feedback.”

The West Hartford Police Department released a statement on Wednesday afternoon stating:

“There have been many questions concerning the circumstances that occurred at the end of the Shabbat services Saturday, and the “Fire and Ice ”menorah lighting in Blue Black Square on Sunday. Due to national, and worldwide, events we are all in a heightened state of concern and awareness. As such, law enforcement has encouraged citizens to call if they see something that is out of the ordinary. This is exactly what happened over this past weekend. The police department has been in contact with the leadership of the Jewish Federation in regards to their concerns. The behavior of the individuals in question, although unusual, does not rise to illegal or criminal activity. We are continuing to investigate any and all leads that we have with this case.”

Associated Press information is included in this story.