Two Messianic synagogues thousands of miles apart were recently threatened in separate incidents amid a wave of anti-Semitic threats and violent attacks in the U.S. and other Western democracies.
The first threat surfaced after federal charges were filed against a man who called an employee of Maryland synagogue Rosh Pina and threatened to kill members of the congregation. The second came from a Las Vegas security guard who planned to attack Lev HaShem Messianic Synagogue with Molotov cocktails and a bomb. Separated by thousands of miles, the two thwarted attacks come as part of a global wave of assaults and threats by avowed white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and others thriving on the specter of anti-Semitism.
Owing Mills, Maryland is an unincorporated community on the outskirts of Baltimore and home to Messianic Synagogue Rosh Pina. The threat against Rosh Pina is scant in details and appears that it is surfacing only now after federal charges have been filed. The Baltimore Sun reports that between May 12 and 13, sixty-four-year-old Stephen Lyle Orback made multiple phone calls to an employee of the congregation and threatened to kill members there. A grand jury indicted Orback on August 15, and if convicted he could face up to five years in prison. There aren’t any details online as to motive, why this threat is coming to light only now, or if Orback has any connection to the synagogue. Orback is currently detained on separate charges in Colorado. Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka told WTOP Radio that the threat could have developed into something much worse.
“Our police commanders took the appropriate action and they’re working with federal authorities,” Patoka said. “In this case, we averted what could potentially have been something far worse.”
Something far worse was also averted near Las Vegas. Exactly one week before Orback’s indictment, twenty-three-year-old Conor Climo was arrested in possession of an unregistered firearm for planning to attack a synagogue with a bomb and Molotov cocktails. The story went national, even being picked up by the New York Times, but it wasn’t till later that authorities revealed the synagogue targeted was Messianic synagogue Lev HaShem.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that in a federal complaint, prosecutors said Climo sent a satellite image of the synagogue to an undercover FBI agent, highlighting a possible escape route after an attack. Authorities raided his house only seven miles from the synagogue where they found bomb supplies and arrested Climo.
The federal complaint also cited Climo’s online interaction with white supremacists where he used racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic slurs. The synagogue wasn’t his only target. Climo also allegedly discussed attacks on a local branch of the Anti-Defamation League and a local bar he believed catered to LGBTQ customers. The authorities also said Climo unsuccessfully attempted to recruit a person who was homeless to conduct surveillance on Lev HaShem and his other targets.
This isn’t Climo’s first time in the news. In 2016, Climo was featured on local Las Vegas TV after he began a short-lived patrol of his neighborhood armed with a rifle and several clips of ammunition. After receiving negative attention when the story went viral and with little support from his neighborhood, Climo changed his tactics. Climo is now in federal custody and faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Rabbi Jered Hundley, leader of Lev HaShem, said that the news Climo had targeted their place of worship came as a shock to his congregation.
“There were audible sounds of people as the realization hit them,” Hundley told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I just felt that we had an obligation to let them know that it was a threat — that if he was associating with other white supremacist groups, it’s always good to let them know and be aware of their surroundings.”
The planned attack is only the latest symptom of rising anti-Semitic rhetoric and action in the U.S. and other western democracies. The Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue mass shooting where eleven worshipers were killed nearly a year ago, the Chabad Poway shooting, and, most recently, a prevented shooting at an Ohio Jewish Community Center are the worst of dozens of attacks, vandalism, and threats that have included Messianic synagogues in the onslaught.
In the past year, at least four Messianic synagogues have been targeted. Just after the Pittsburgh shooting, twenty-year-old William Josephus Warden was arrested in North Carolina after trying to enter Messianic Synagogue Shaarei Shalom and making anti-Semitic threats over the intercom after finding the door locked.
In April, Colorado Messianic Jewish Church in the City Beth-Abraham was marred by swastikas spray painted on the building.
Though white nationalists and anti-Semites include Messianic congregations in their list of targets, the larger Jewish community is not demonstrating the same inclusivity. Lev HaShem’s Rabbi Jered Hundley said that in the aftermath of the news, very few reached out to the synagogue, not even the local Anti-Defamation League that was also targeted. Hundley noted that though the ADL requested additional police patrols around other synagogues during Shabbat services, none were requested for Lev HaShem.
“We’re not trying to be recognized, we’re not asking to be patted on the back, but it would be nice to be thought of,” Hundley said, speaking to a Review-Journal reporter. “You’re the only person that’s even called, other than the FBI.”
According to the Forward, an ADL representative did reach out to Hundley to add his congregation to the organization’s email list only after the Review-Journal contacted the ADL to ask why they had neglected to include the Messianic congregation.