Temple Bomb Case Hurtful Reminder In NYC Community

May 25, 2009

Author: Jennifer Peltz

Source: Syracuse.com

Wire Service: AP


Riverdale has a reputation as a tranquil piece of suburbia nestled in New York City.

The hilly Bronx neighborhood boasts leafy estates, prestigious schools and sweeping views of the Hudson River. Residents tout the neighborliness of a place that feels both close to urbane charms and far from urban ills.

Yet the arrests last week of four men accused of trying to bomb two Riverdale synagogues weren't the community's first confrontation with the specter of violent hatred. A local weekly newspaper was firebombed in 1989, in apparent retaliation for an editorial. And a group of men including a Palestinian angry at Israel tossed homemade bombs through a temple's door in 2000.

The newest case evokes both painful memories and new anguish for the heavily Jewish community, which prides itself on tolerance and embracing diversity. One of the temples authorities say was targeted, the Riverdale Jewish Center, has provided a Muslim exchange student with space to pray near her school.

"Riverdale terrorist plot-three words I never thought I would say in one sentence," mused resident Aliza Hausman, 28, a Dominican-American who converted from Roman Catholicism to Orthodox Judaism. She moved to Riverdale in 2006, seeing it as "definitely a tolerant type of place."

Despite her conversion, one of the community's two Catholic colleges readily hired her for a part-time job, said Hausman, a former editor and public school teacher who keeps a blog called "Memoirs of a Jewminicana."

A scenic swath of land along the Hudson, Riverdale has been a home or summer home to Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, the conductor Arturo Toscanini and Carly Simon, among other notables.

Wealthy New Yorkers began creating estates there in the mid-1800s. Smaller homes, high-rises and a subway line have since made parts of the area more urban. But preservationists have reined in development pressures to protect single-family homes and the community's sense of being a place apart in the often gritty Bronx.

"Riverdale is a community that has its own, somewhat separate identity," said lifelong resident and City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, a former state attorney general and assemblyman.

Long a Jewish and Irish-American redoubt, Riverdale has seen an influx of Dominican-Americans in recent years, along with Manhattanites of all demographics attracted by its family-oriented feel and relative affordability.

Growing, too, is the population of Orthodox Jews, drawn by a rising number of Orthodox synagogues and schools.

Orthodox newcomers are a small fraction of the 101,000 people in Riverdale and two adjacent neighborhoods counted with it in city community statistics.

But with the growing Orthodox community, "the image of Riverdale is much more Jewish," said Richard Stein, co-publisher emeritus of The Riverdale Press, one of the area's weekly newspapers. His parents founded it in 1950; it is now owned by Richner Communications Inc.

The first floor of the paper's office was destroyed in the February 1989 firebombing. It came days after Stein's brother, Bernard, wrote an editorial saying citizens had a right to read Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses." The book prompted Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a death decree that forced the author into hiding for years.