NEW YORK – After a man allegedly made antisemitic and racist threats towards people at a Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, synagogue and preschool on Dec. 2, the Archdiocese of Detroit has expressed solidarity with the local Jewish community.
Hassan Yehia Chokr, 35, from Dearborn, Michigan, was charged with two felony counts of ethnic intimidation after he allegedly made antisemitic and racist threats to parents, young children, and security personnel at the Temple Beth El synagogue.
Chokr was taken into custody by the Dearborn Police Department. He was arraigned on Dec. 5, and had his bond set for nearly $1 million. He is expected to return to court in two weeks.
“The Archdiocese of Detroit condemns the anti-Semitic sentiments expressed during a December 2 incident at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township,” the archdiocese said in a Dec. 5 statement.
“Under the leadership of Archbishop Allen Vigneron, we reaffirm our commitment to stamping out anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia whenever and wherever we see it occuring,” the statement continues. “The Archbishop stands with the Jewish community and encourages other religious and civic leaders to speak out against any kind of attack on our citizens due to their race, religion or culture.”
Temple Beth El Senior Rabbi Mark Miller told the advocacy organization StopAntisemitism that Chokr showed up to the synagogue’s Early Childhood Center in a white van in the morning during drop off time, at which point he began filming and verbally harassing families.
The synagogue’s security team intervened immediately, and after the Bloomfield Township police arrived shortly thereafter he was removed without further incident, according to StopAntisemitism.
On Dec. 5, the director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights issued a statement condemning Chokr’s actions, saying people from the synagogue “came face to face with hate.”
“While we are grateful no one was physically hurt in this incident, we must respond quickly and forcefully wherever and whenever people are targeted with hate,” John Johnson, Jr., said in a statement.
“We are grateful for the quick response of the Dearborn Police Department taking the individual responsible into custody, and for the Oakland County Prosecuting Attorney for bringing these charges.”
The incident comes amid a recent rise in antisemitism nationwide. Last week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a lengthy statement condemning antisemitism and calling for Catholics to remain vigilant against it.
At the time of the U.S. Bishops Conference Nov. 28 statement, the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks anti-Semitic behavior in the U.S., had 1,490 incidents listed on its website. As of Dec. 6, that number had jumped to 1,507. A recent incident listed from Dec. 5 is a father and son wearing yarmulkes were shot with a BB gun on Staten Island.
“In unequivocal terms, we condemn any and all violence directed at the Jewish people, whether motivated by religious, racial, or political grievances,” said the Nov. 28 statement. “We furthermore denounce any rhetoric which seeks to demonize or dehumanize the Jewish people of Judaism as a religious tradition.”
The statement was signed by Bishop David Talley of Memphis, who leads the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and the eight other bishop committee members.
In its statement regarding the recent incident in Bloomfield Hills, the Archdiocese of Detroit added that “as we approach the Christmas and Hanukkah seasons, let us unite in our prayers and action for an increase in peace and goodwill in our society.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg