This past Friday night, on July 12, moments before the end of the late Shabbat minyan at Young Israel of Teaneck (YIOT), a silver Honda Accord careened around the corner of Overlook Terrace, and approached Perry Lane where the shul is housed in a semi-remote cul-de-sac. Taking video with their phones, the car’s passengers aimed guns at a man walking away from the synagogue, and started shooting.
The man, in his 60s, who spoke with The Jewish Link but asked not to be named, was soaked by a stream of liquid, which he realized was water. The car screeched on, driving erratically away. The man turned around and re-approached the shul, having been completely squirted with water guns. His face and clothing were wet. He was startled and surprised. Shmuel Herman, a fellow member of YIOT, was already outside the shul and rushed to check if he was OK. Several minutes later, the same car completed a loop around the corner and began to reapproach the synagogue.
What they didn’t know, Herman said, is that “They messed with the wrong guy.”
Herman, an expert locksmith with his own company, SH Rescue, LLC, was in the Israeli army. His lockbreaking unit became IDF instructors for the Israeli secret service, and in fact his unit conducted training sessions for the FBI, in Israel. He keeps up his skills in security.
In the IDF, Herman became skilled at learning names and numbers without having to write them down, so is adept at remembering details like license plate numbers and personal descriptions in crisis situations. He was a significant distance from the shul when the car approached him on its second visit to the synagogue. While he said he felt threatened as he was outside shul with no way to call for help, he shouted at them to stop messing around, to try to minimize the risk to others.
“They said, ‘No way, Jew,’ and proceeded to attack me with their water guns,” Herman told The Jewish Link.
Instead of falling victim to the nasty prank, Herman’s training kicked in. He hurried home and called the police, telling them the license number of the car and a description of the vehicle and its inhabitants. Nine police cars showed up at his house and others began looking for the perpetrators with the information Herman provided. Paramedics asked him if his skin was burning from the liquid, initially fearing that the water might have been laced with acid. The car, with three adults in it, was apprehended a short time later idling on Palmer Avenue, near three other synagogues.
Teaneck Deputy Mayor Elie Katz said he thought the perpetrators were likely lying in wait for the congregants of nearby Beth Aaron, the Jewish Center or Ohr Saadya to begin leaving their synagogues, so they could continue to terrorize Jews leaving synagogues. The situation could have ended much differently, but he was grateful it ended with no one’s car tires being shot out and no one being injured.
Katz explained that the Teaneck Police Department is currently working with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office to determine how the perpetrators will be charged. He did share that they were all over the age of 18, and are Teaneck residents. A call in to the Teaneck Police Department asking about the charges was unanswered at press time.
“This was very alarming and scary for the individuals involved,” said Katz. “They [the perpetrators] were not minors. I don't know about you but as an adult, I don’t go out at night to terrorize people with water guns. Especially in regard to recent shootings in New Zealand at two mosques, in Charleston at a church, in shuls in Pittsburgh and Poway, this is not a time for messing around,” he said.
Katz shared that he continues to help keep Teaneck safe by working with the police on securing all of the community’s 60 houses of worship, including with a rotating decoy police car program. The township manager has visited all the houses of worship and continues to work with them to make sure they have what they need. Over the last year, the Teaneck Police Department has significantly stepped up what they call “directed patrols,” which focus on the houses of worship during and after services or other times of heavy traffic. They also work to assist churches, mosques and synagogues with homeland security grant funding. Katz has also partnered with The Jewish Link and many other organizations and individuals to put together security information events, most recently last October, to make sure every house of worship in Teaneck is up to date on the latest security protocols.
Herman shared that this situation was particularly concerning because it targeted people outside synagogues without the protection of the building and the alarm panic buttons. “We are all trained for active shooter events inside the synagogue. This was a situation where we were leaving the synagogue, outside our own houses. We felt threatened. I am debating whether I should be going out this coming week,” Herman said.
Herman said he received written apologies from the perpetrators and was asked by the police and prosecutor’s office if he wanted to press charges, and said he considered this carefully. “If they had left after the first time, I would have let it go. But they came back. They came back a second time. For that reason I decided we should press charges.”
Herman, whose background in security proves that “if you see something, say something,” works in catching perpetrators, shared that his message is that, even during Shabbat, picking up the phone right away is important if there’s no other way to report it.
“Unfortunately, this kind of thing has to be reported right away, because we are concerned about the safety of ourselves and others,” said Herman.
Katz added that he now carries his cell phone on Shabbat for this reason. “There are incidents on Shabbos that I have to get involved in,” he explained.