In Riverdale, New Anxieties, And a Resolve to Carry On

May 21, 2009

Author: Lisa W. Foderaro

Source: The New York Times

High on a hill, overlooking the Palisades, is Riverdale, a quiet, stroller-friendly community where Jews have gravitated for decades, both to the postwar brick apartment buildings and the capacious homes where azaleas are now in bloom. Residents can walk to a half-dozen synagogues and shop in delis and restaurants catering to their faith. There’s even a kosher Dunkin’ Donuts.

But on Wednesday night, the neighborly calm in this part of the Bronx was shattered when armored police vehicles, including an 18-wheeler, moved in to foil what officials called a terrorist plot to blow up two synagogues on Independence Avenue.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security, working with the New York Police Department, had for months tracked the actions of the four suspects arrested on Wednesday, who they said also had schemed to shoot down military planes at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh.

Even on Wednesday night, as Judith S. Lewis, the rabbi of the Riverdale Temple, one of the two targeted synagogues, was leaving for the night, she thought the unusual flurry of police activity was related to “a major drug bust of some sort,” she said. She heard the news on her car radio as she drove home.

“My first call was from an Israeli newspaper,” she said. “The phone didn’t stop ringing.”

The bombs that the defendants are accused of planting in cars in front of the Riverdale Temple, a Reform synagogue, and the nearby Riverdale Jewish Center, which is Orthodox, could not have exploded, having been disabled by the F.B.I. But some residents said the episode highlighted an insecurity they have long felt in a community so closely tied to Jewish life.