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May 3, 2021 5:47 pm

Jewish Community ‘Terrified, Angry’ Over Release of Accused Attacker of Multiple Bronx Synagogues

avatar by Yoni Wilkenfeld

Police stand guard at Ohel Menachem Riverdale Jewish Youth Library Lubavitch, where glass windows were smashed. Photo by Lev Radin/Sipa USA

Jewish community leaders in New York and nationally were outraged on Monday after learning that the man arrested for a string of rock-throwing attacks on synagogues in the Riverdale neighborhood of New York was released by a Bronx judge — just hours after another judge had ruled that he be held on bail.

Jordan Burnette, 29, was arrested Saturday on 42 charges in connection with the spree of attacks, in which over several days he smashed doors and windows at the Riverdale Jewish Center (RJC), Chabad Lubavitch of Riverdale, Young Israel of Riverdale and Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale (CSAIR).

During a Sunday hearing, he was first ordered held on $20,000 bail by Bronx Criminal Court Judge Louis Nock, who said that even under New York state’s bail reform law, the shattering of glass windows could qualify as a violent felony and would justify holding the accused.

But after Burnette’s lawyers asked for a review of the bail ruling, Judge Tara Collins reversed the decision and granted supervised release.

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“We were terrorized, frightened for ten days,” Rabbi Levi Shemtov of Chabad Lubavitch of Riverdale told The Algemeiner. “Finally, when we heard shabbos [Saturday] morning that they caught him, we all felt a sense of relief. Now this morning, as Riverdale is getting up, everybody’s calling me, texting me, emailing me — we’re back to square one, and it’s even worse. Because now he has a path to do whatever he wants.”

Shemtov said he was especially concerned upon hearing that Burnette lives in the Riverdale community, close to the four Jewish institutions he targeted.

“People are scared, terrified — and there’s a lot of anger, a lot of frustration,” he said.

Under the controversial reform law, first passed in 2019 and amended in 2020, cash bail and pretrial detention are ruled out for many misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges. Before Judge Nock’s initial decision Sunday, prosecutors themselves did not believe that the charges facing Burnette could call for pretrial detention under the law, a judgement that was later shared by Judge Collins.

“The release of the perpetrator is terribly disheartening to the community — is unnerving, is causing significant anxiety,” said Mitch Silber, executive director of the Community Security Initiative, which helps secure Jewish institutions in the New York area.

“I’ve just participated in a call with the Bronx District Attorney’s office, and what we’ve learned is that supervised release in New York City means you’re released with no supervision,” Silber told The Algemeiner on Monday. “He could walk out of his apartment, and walk to any one of the locations that he attacked, and there would be no consequence for him to do that.”

“The community is trying to figure out how do they go about their daily business, visiting their shuls, taking children to day school, in an environment where this individual essentially has no prohibitions on his movements,” Silber added. “Vigilance is the watchword.”

Sought for over a week after the initial attacks, Burnette was arrested Saturday after being stopped for riding his bicycle against traffic several blocks from CSAIR, where he was seen on surveillance footage vandalizing prayer books from the synagogue that night.

Evan Bernstein — the chief executive of the Community Security Service (CSS), a volunteer-based security agency that works to protect Jewish institutions — told The Algemeiner that there was a “lot of disappointment” among the group’s members.

“It’s emotionally very difficult,” Bernstein said. “Volunteers are just really upset by the fact that they did their job, they worked with the NYPD, the Hate Crimes Task Force did a great job — and then they find the perpetrator has now been released. They know why, but it’s hard for them emotionally to accept that.”

He said that CSS volunteers in Riverdale and elsewhere would be “even more diligent and more aware than ever before,” with an eye towards possible copycat attacks as well as risks posed by the gradual return to in-person gatherings in synagogues — particularly outdoors, which can be more vulnerable.

“There’s definitely a concern that other people will look at this and say, ‘wow, this person could go and vandalize multiple synagogues, on multiple different days … and they get to walk out, even though it’s under supervised release, they’re not being held,'” he said. “The community is not happy.”

Leading Jewish groups also addressed Sunday’s decision, with Scott Richman, NY/NJ Regional Director at the Anti-Defamation League, telling The Algemeiner, “We are grateful to law enforcement that a suspect in the Riverdale vandalism that has damaged four synagogues and terrorized the community has now been arrested and charged. We hope that the conditions of Jordan Burnette’s supervised release will be stringent enough to prevent him from attacking any sites again, and ensure that he is available to stand trial.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement that the “NYPD did its job and arrested the perpetrator of multiple hate crimes, only to see him released by a judge. Criminals, including antisemites will act with increasing impunity putting all in danger, unless the laws treat every hate crime seriously.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called for “looking at” allowing judges to set bail in cases of nonviolent hate crimes, saying that it was critical to “work within the law as intensely and effectively as possible to protect people,” in his daily briefing Monday.

“These laws are pathetic and need to change. The silent majority must speak up before more innocent people get hurt,” said Joshua Gleis of Gleis Security Consulting, a security firm that helps protect several hundred houses of worship and other not-for-profits, many of them in Riverdale.

“Judicial reform is a must but it must be smart; laws must allow police to do their job and serve as a deterrent. Right now these bail reform laws serve nobody but the criminals. It is an injustice to the victims,” Gleis told The Algemeiner on Monday.

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