NH Jewish community responds to recent hate crimes

Representing just 1% of state population, NH Jews talk about the effect of hate crimes, both near and far.

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Rabbi Robin Nafshi of Temple Beth Jacob, Concord

MANCHESTER, NH — This year’s eight-day Hanukkah holiday ended on Monday, with its bright candles shining in windows, symbolizing religious freedom and pride in identity. Jews have lived in New Hampshire since Colonial times, and the two Manchester synagogues were founded before 1900. Now, the local Jewish community is responding to recent challenges to Jewish survival and resilience. As the volume of threats increases, there is a sense that Jews in and beyond New Hampshire are increasingly a target of hate from a number of sources.

In November, there was an email threat against the Concord Jewish community. A suspect has been arrested and arraigned. That city’s Temple Beth Jacob is in the process of reviewing its security procedures to see how they can be updated and improved.  Just over two weeks before that, the name of Rabbi Robin Nafshi, the temple’s spiritual leader, appeared on a white supremacists’ blog. On December 2, the ceremonial lighting of a 13-foot tall menorah (candelabra) in front of the State House in Concord was delayed for an hour while a state police bomb squad X-rayed a suspicious package beneath it; the package contained food.

In October, eleven Jews at prayer were murdered in a shooting in Tree of Life Synagogues Pittsburgh, and  Manchester public properties were painted with swastikas by a local man, who has since been charged. The Pittsburgh attack was particularly vexing for many local Jews who have family, social, and professional ties to Pittsburgh Jews, including the victims.

This season is also painful because November 9 marked the eightieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, when Nazis in Germany torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools, and businesses, and killed close to 100 Jews.

In contrast to the shadows cast by these sad events, local Jews find much reason for hope. Among many vigils and interfaith programs throughout the state, Manchester’s November 10 “Take Back Wagner Park” brought together faith leaders and local residents, including Mayor Joyce Craig.  In Concord, community members supported the temple through letters, gifts, and standing vigil outside the building during services and religious school.  Police have stepped up patrols in Concord and at other temples. Senator Maggie Hassan telephoned rabbis to offer her support. Over 1,000 people attended the annual commemoration of Kristallnacht in Keene on November 9.

“In the outpouring of support we received after Pittsburgh – from churches and mosques and Hindu temples, in letters from elected officials and protection from police forces, in the personal calls every rabbi received from Senator Maggie Hassan – we have to see our own achievement in building a better America,” wrote Rabbi Jon Spira-Savett of Temple Beth Abraham, Nashua.

“And we have to see a challenge to pay it forward, to stand by other groups who are misunderstood, hated, targeted. We cannot let the bullying talk go, from the president and other leaders or would-be leaders. We have to show up at the places where other people are afraid as they came to #showedupforShabbat. We have to make the phone calls like the ones we received,” Rabbi Spira-Savett concluded.

Rabbi Levi Krinsky, Director Chabad of Manchester said, “I really believe in humanity and I think a very high percentage, 99.9 percent of Americans are good, kind, compassionate, caring people. I think the average American would jump into a burning car or house to save an animal or a human life. We have to learn to trust each other.”

Jewish Federation takes leadership role, arranging meetings with officials and helping institutions plan security

The Jewish Federation of New Hampshire (JFNH), based in Manchester, has taken a leadership role in responding to the community’s intensified security concerns. In the wake of the tragedy at Pittsburgh’s Tree of JFNH moved swiftly to connect with local, state, and federal officials to create a task force supporting the needs of Jewish entities throughout the state. JFNH also has a long-standing relationship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a national organization.

“A threat to one of us is a threat to all of us,” said Melanie Zalman McDonald, JFNH Executive Director.

“Within one week of the tragedy in Pittsburgh, JFNH leadership called a meeting in Concord with our State Security Partners (State Police, FBI, Dept. of Homeland Security, FBI) to discuss our concerns on behalf of the congregations. I felt very reassured at our big meeting a week before Thanksgiving with state police, the FBI, and security officials at the highest level. I was impressed by their willingness to learn and work with us to keep things culturally aware,” McDonald said.

From left: Paul Bieber, JFNH Treasurer; Elizabeth Lahey, Asst. Attorney General, Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Unit; Col. Christopher Wagner, NH State Police, Dept. of Public Safety; Melanie Zalman McDonald, JFNH Executive Director; Perry Plummer, Dir. Dept. of Homeland Security & Emergency Management; Special Agent Mark Hastbacka, FBI Boston Division, U.S. Department of Justice; Mindee Greenberg, JFNH Board Chair.

The November meeting began a long-term collaboration with public officials to provide their guidance and expertise, working alongside local Jewish leaders to aid in further hardening of facilities and to prepare New Hampshire’s Jewish community in the event of a threat or natural disaster.

JFNH has formed a security committee which is surveying organizations and giving them self-assessment tools. It plans training for active-shooter scenarios, responding to anti-Semitism, and balancing congregational security with a welcoming, open-door policy. It is organizing a presentation and panel discussion on understanding hate crime statutes and working with local and state security partners.

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“We are seeing a return to the fold of Jews who were not previously connected. They feel a sense of ownership, concern, and connection. It’s not easy to be a Jew in New Hampshire. There is more identifying and more self-presenting,” said McDonald.

Rabbis advise on countering anti-Semitism

Rabbi Beth Davidson, of Temple Adath Yeshurun on Prospect Street, described anti-Semitism as, “A subtle, societal statement of being an outsider.” She said, “In recent years, there has been a very disturbing trend towards marginalizing or demonizing people who are different for skin color, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic background. I think that we are seeing the dissolution of what used to be American society into these tiny groups of people. It’s really disturbing.”

Rabbi Beth Davidson of Temple Adath Yeshurun, Manchester

The pastor of a New Boston church invited her there to speak about it. She said, “I told them that if you ask any American Jew between the age of 8 and 80, they are all going to share some kind of story about how it personally touched their lives. There was a gasp in the congregation.”

Rabbi Davidson then told them, ‘I’m frankly happy to hear that you all find that so disturbing. But here’s what you can do about it. When you hear people telling so-called ethnic jokes, or when you hear people denigrating some other community, call them on it. It’s not okay. It’s not funny. It’s not acceptable behavior. Language is important. And if everybody stood up and said, ‘We’re not going to put up with that, and here’s what’s wrong with what you said,’ that makes a change. Each and every one of you can be an agent of change if you’re willing to tell your friend or your coworker that it’s not acceptable. That is part of our social contract as Americans.”

Rabbi Jeremy Szczepanski of Temple Israel, Manchester

Rabbi Jeremy Szczepanski, of Temple Israel on Salmon Street, also cited an increase in overt anti-Semitism in the last couple of years. He said, “We have this idea that isn’t supposed to happen here in America, of all places. While it’s shocking, we have to work through that, from ignorance to denial, shock, and then acceptance.”

Rabbi Szczepanski recalled the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, last year, that stopped in front of the local Reform synagogue and shouted slogans and a counter-protestor was killed by a car plowing the crowd. Rabbi Szczepanski said a colleague and friend had just moved there to an apartment one block away from the fatal incident. He sees it as part of an escalation leading to the killings in Pittsburgh and called it “a wake-up call.”

“Never in a million years did we think what happened over in in Europe in the ’30s and ’40s could ever happen here, especially since America was one of the nations that allied together to fight against that,” Szczepanski said,

He called anti-Semitism an irrational social disease, like a virus.

Local institutions are reviewing and improving security measures

Over 20 years ago, Temple Adath Yeshurun, the largest synagogue in Manchester, kept is doors open whenever people were present. Since then, the temple installed a security system. More recently, it started screening visitors and locking its doors after people enter for services, programs, or education.  During heavily-attended High Holidays services, worshippers wear identification badges.

“There was a sense that Manchester was changing, and that we needed to change along with the times,” Rabbi Davidson said. “Having the door locked is counter intuitive and counterproductive to what a synagogue should be. But the reality was, we didn’t have somebody sitting at the door. And when you’re in the sanctuary, you can’t hear the doorbell or the front door opening and closing. We want to be aware of people walking into the building.”

When the synagogue is open to the community, it has police present.

“It’s a sad comment on the times that we live in that insurance companies now offer active shooter insurance. That tells you about the change in the world that we live in. We want to try to take every reasonable precaution we can and to feel safe in the building and have the community feel safe, but we refuse to live behind a moat,” Davidson said.

Like Temple Adath Yeshurun, Chabad of Manchester, on River Road, has a security system and cameras, which were installed when they moved into the newly-renovated building last year, according to Rabbi Krinsky.

Manchester hosts a Jewish summer day camp and a pre-school. Other camps are in Amherst, Brookline, Hampstead, and Nottingham. JFNH organizes an annual Jewish film festival in the spring at various locations around the state. All have heightened security requirements.

Police described as responsive

Rabbi Davidson praised the Manchester police department for their responsiveness.

“They have been extremely responsive, and we’ve done numerous walk-throughs with them. They sent a mounted patrol after Pittsburgh, which thrilled the kids. It was a good opportunity to talk about how the police are our friends and they’re here to keep us safe,” Davidson said. “Some of the kids thought that the horses were waving at them!,” she added, with a laugh.

Rabbi Krinsky agreed the local police have been highly responsive. After a few phone calls, he arranged a state police detail  to cover the lighting of the menorah on the state house plaza. It was delayed an hour while while the bomb squad X-rayed and cleared a suspicious box.

“Live and let live,” advises Rabbi Krinsky           

“The anti-Semites are amongst us and have always been, and they do from time to time rear their ugly heads, but we should not change who we are or let it define us,” Rabbi Krinsky said. “The synagogue is the backbone of the community. It’s where people come to pray, to socialize, to get to know each other. It’s important that we are able to live and let live.”

Rabbi Levi Krinsky, Director, Chabad of Manchester

Rabbi Krinsky, who has a long beard and a wears a black hat, said he feels safe and comfortable going about his daily business or walking the mile from his home to the synagogue, where neighbors often greet him with friendliness.

“By no means am I fearful or feel any sense of concern or safety for my life,” he said.

Through people he met while walking, he has been invited to speak to a large French-Canadian club about Jewish faith and beliefs.

“When you withdraw, you give these people in part what they what they want: They’ve not only created fear for the moment, but they’ve impacted our lives. I don’t want to give them that kind of power over myself or over the community,” Rabbi Davidson said.

Rabbi Szczepanski agreed.

“The message of Hanukkah is for Jews to walk tall with our heads held high, not hiding who we are. This is not what these rising factions of anti-Semites here in America want us to do. It’s the nature of terrorism is to disrupt the natural order. We must not let it cripple us or make us feel like we must go into hiding. Our best approach is to strengthen ourselves, create more light (metaphorically speaking), hold stronger values, and do more good deeds for holiness and the sacredness of this world,” Szczepanski said.


History of Jews in Manchester

Manchester Jews first organized around 1900, built manufacturing companies and now relocate here for professional and high-tech employment

Jews were listed as residents on the New Hampshire seacoast as early as 1693. There was a Jewish presence in Manchester in 1862. Temple Adath Yeshurun was organized in 1893 and constructed a synagogue in 1911. A second synagogue, Anshei Sfard (now Temple Israel), was organized in 1897 and constructed its synagogue in 1917. Both purchased land for a cemetery.

From 1880 to 1924, Jewish immigrants were small merchants and trades people escaping pogroms, forced military conscription, oppressive legislation, and poverty. Few worked in Manchester’s huge Amoskeag textile mills.

According to Jewish Virtual Library, “The first peddlers became merchants, and the downtown areas of Manchester, Nashua, Dover, Portsmouth. Keene, and Claremont soon had numbers of Jewish entrepreneurs.’

“Professional people, lawyers, physicians, dentists, teachers began to appear, often from the first generation of native-born Americans. At the same time, economic and political influence grew. Harry Lichman was appointed a probate judge in Keene and Bernard Snierson a municipal court judge in Laconia in the mid-1940s. No Jewish judge served on the Superior Court bench until Philip Hollman in 1987, and no federal judge until Norman Stahl was appointed to the Federal District Court in 1990 (in 2005 he was a senior judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals on the First Circuit).

“Jews joined bank boards in the late 1940s, Saul Greenspan and Milton Machinist, both in Manchester, being the first, and Jews became members of boards of trustees of the Manchester Historic Association, the Currier Gallery (now Museum) of Art, and the NH Historical Society,” according to Jewish Virtual Library.  Republican Senator Warren Rudman, a Jew, who died in 1982, was called, “an early advocate for fiscal responsibility,” by President Barack Obama.

The Pandora Mill, now home of Oracle Dyn and UNH-Manchester

After the demise of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in 1936, Jews established manufacturing companies in Manchester. “The Blums and Sidores brought Pandora Industries to the city, the Greenspans Waumbec Mills, the Cohens BeeBee Shoe, Boston’s Gordon brothers, JS and BD, opened Hampshire Designers and MKM, both textile manufacturers.” –  Jewish Virtual Library.


“In 1950, Pandora Industries bought the building and continued using it until 1990. Pandora Industries, a well-known knitwear manufacturer, was known for their sweaters; the building had a sign on its roof at one point in time which read, ‘Home of Pandora Sweaters.’ At the height of the company, the mill produced over 60,000 sweaters a week and employed about 1,000 people. May Gruber, one of the founders of Pandora Industries alongside her parents and husband, was a woman who paved the way for other women in big business. Gruber and her associates began the company in New York and later moved it to Manchester.

“During a time when not many women were seen running businesses, she took control of the company in 1964 upon the death of her husband, and business partner, Saul Sidore, running it until she sold it in 1983. Both a business icon and civic leader, Gruber gave much of her time to the arts and music around the state, as well as donating to organizations that promoted health and wellness of children.” – UNH Manchester


“A first-generation American, Saul Sidore was born in New York City in 1907. After losing his job during the Great Depression, Sidore and his future wife May Blum joined her parents in founding the Juvenile Knitting Mills. The family’s enterprises moved to New Hampshire in 1940, and by 1955 Sidore was president of Brookshire Mills and Pandora Industries of Manchester.

Sidore’s business practices reflected his ethical principles and his interest in providing security for his employees. He pioneered a profit-sharing plan, instituted a pension plan, founded a scholarship loan fund to help his employees send their children to college, and he was the first employer in New Hampshire to hire an industrial psychologist and institute insured hospitalization benefits for employees. Sidore, who encouraged employees of all levels to participate in business decisions, created a joint committee of executives and employees to discuss their issues, and held quarterly meetings with all employees to discuss the company and its future.” – Plymouth University


“Until the migration of garment work overseas in the 1980s, there was a thriving Jewish presence in soft goods manufacturing. At the same time, growth in high tech industry with many Jewish participants replaced some of the old industrial base and the number of Jewish professional men and women grew enormously.” – Jewish Virtual Library


Ralph Baer with his patented Brown Box, which would evolved into Odyssey, and launch video gaming as we know it today. Courtesy Photo

Ralph Baer, known as the “father of the video game,” escaped Germany in 1938 two months before Kristallnacht, arriving in New York City, eventually moving to New Hampshire to work for Sanders Associates. “He developed the very first console video game system, originally known as the “Brown Box,” which was later licensed and sold as 1972’s Magnavox Odyssey, which laid the foundation for video games as we know them today. Baer was also a co-collaborator on the popular games, Pong and Simon, and had more than 150 patents in his lifetime. – Manchester Ink Link


In 2017, New Hampshire’s Jewish population was approximately 10,120 people, 1.1 percent of the population. Jews here work in a range of professions, from teachers to cardiac doctors to engineers.