Local synagogue vandalized; FBI investigates reports of suspicious packages

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is currently probing two reports involving suspicious packages delivered to Jewish organizations on Mercer Island and the vandalization of a local synagogue.

The packages were received over a recent three-day period, according to the Mercer Island Police Department (MIPD) in a Nov. 20 press release.

Two days later, MIPD reported that the Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation on Mercer Island was vandalized overnight and synagogue members noticed the defacement upon their arrival on the morning of Nov. 22. Messages, including “Shame” and “Shame on Israel,” were found on the building, according to a King 5 report.

“We responded to the scene and have included the FBI as well. The scene is being turned over to the FBI who is leading the investigation,” MIPD said.

On its Facebook page, Herzl-Ner Tamid issued the following message to its members on the afternoon of Nov. 22: “With a heavy heart, we share that our beloved synagogue was vandalized with graffiti overnight. There are currently no credible threats of violence. The FBI, local authorities, Safe Washington are all actively involved. We are taking this incident very seriously. Despite this adversity, our commitment to leading fulfilled, connected Jewish lives remains steadfast. Thank you for standing strong with us. We would like to take a moment to thank everyone for the outpouring of support.”

Herzl-Ner Tamid President Mickey Friedman said in a Facebook message on Nov. 23 that the graffiti was in the process of being cleansed, and defacement was no longer spotted during a Reporter visit to the synagogue on the morning of Nov. 26. Inside, congregants participated in the traditional minyan public worship.

“Think about how we as a community came together. Think about all the support from Jewish and non-Jewish leaders and organizations alike. How the Mercer Island police and leadership have our back,” said Friedman, adding that there’s been an outpouring of support from congregants along with rabbis and a plethora of organizations throughout the country.

In the earlier incidents, MIPD investigated the reports and determined the packages were not dangerous but remain suspicious, “particularly in light of similar events in recent weeks throughout the region and nationally,” the press release noted, adding that the department takes a serious stance on incidents of targeted harassment and appreciates the assistance of its partners at the United States Postal Service and FBI in these cases.

Rabbi Nissan Kornfeld, director of Chabad Mercer Island, confirmed with the Reporter that his organization received one of the packages.

“While we are frustrated at receiving one of these envelopes, we are very grateful to the police, FBI and fire department for their quick response. I wish the care and letters of support we received from neighbors over the past few weeks would be as newsworthy as this one piece of mail,” said Kornfeld, adding that they won’t be deterred and will hold a Grand Menorah lighting at Mercerdale Park on the first night of Chanukah (from 5-6 p.m. on Dec. 7).

“We need that light more than ever now, symbolizing hope and resilience in the face of challenges,” he further said, noting that light and good will always prevail over darkness and hate. “I encourage all people of goodwill to add in goodness and kindness to those around you — and to people you may have never met.”

On Oct. 10, Mercer Island Mayor Salim Nice and Deputy Mayor Dave Rosenbaum released a joint statement via Nice’s X page that read, in part: “We encourage all Mercer Island residents to stand against hatred, prejudice, and violence in all its forms and promote understanding, dialogue, and peace among all community members.”

The Reporter will add to this story when more information becomes available.