US synagogue refuses to be cowed by terror

By Mira Oberman, AFP

CHICAGO–The halls of this Jewish center on Chicago’s lakeshore rang with the chatter of children a day after congregants learned it was the target of a botched attempt to ship a bomb here from Yemen. People here were certainly frightened and disturbed by the news that Congregation Or Chadash — a gay and lesbian congregation that shares the space with a Jewish day school and the Emmanuel Congregation — was one of at least two Chicago Jewish institutions targeted in the plot.

But they insisted they would not be cowed by terrorists. “It’s a little frightening,” said Linda Projansky, who spent Sunday morning at the center making blankets for an upcoming holiday sale with members of Congregation Emmanuel’s knitting group.

“You can’t let it stop you because it you let it stop you from doing stuff they win.” Two parcels containing explosive materials were discovered on cargo planes in Great Britain and Dubai Thursday and Friday and U.S. officials said they were addressed to Chicago synagogues. U.S. President Barack Obama has made it clear he suspects the involvement of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based branch of Osama bin Laden’s extremist network. The FBI immediately warned local Jewish institutions of the threat and word got out Saturday that Or Chadash was one of the targets. While the package was reportedly addressed to Or Chadash’s previous home — a Unitarian church — officials at this modest center were on high alert.

The directors of the center have increased security in the wake of the botched plot and are taking the threat very seriously, said Alison Lewin, director of education for Congregation Emmanuel. But no classes or services were canceled, and none will be. “It’s definitely a shock to realize it’s coming to you or, in our case, is coming to a partner, but it’s the reality of being a Jewish organization,” she told AFP.

“Every Jewish organization knows that at some level there’s always a basic threat and that’s why we have standard security.” Lewin is worried about how the relatively small congregation has been thrust onto the international stage by the news.

She’s spoken to a number of concerned parents and assured them that the children are “as safe as they can be.” And after an exhausting weekend, she’s ready for things to get back to normal.