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With antisemitism on the rise, Utah Jews beef up security for ‘Super Bowl’ of holidays

09/15/2023 07:22:31 AM


Peggy Fletcher Stack

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cantor Wendy Bat-Sarah and Rabbi Samuel Spector at Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City in 2019. The synagogue is ramping up security for High Holy Days.

Utah Jews have spent weeks preparing their homes, their synagogues and their lives for High Holy Days, which begin Friday with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, and end 10 days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

It is a time of celebrating and greeting, praying and preaching, renewing and reflecting, forgiving and being forgiven.

For Rabbi Samuel Spector of east Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami, it is the “Super Bowl” of Jewish holidays.

Sadly, it also has become a time for all rabbis to worry about security at their synagogues amid a rise in antisemitism.

“We have to hire two or three police officers for all our services,” says Spector, adding that they are held “pretty much around the clock.”

Larger congregations, including the one he served in Los Angeles, have full-time security officers, but Kol Ami cannot afford that.

The congregation is spending a half-million dollars in the next few years to beef up the synagogue’s security features, including a wall around the sacred structure’s perimeter, ballistic film on the windows and additional cameras.

While Kol Ami hasn’t experienced any violent attacks, it has received threatening emails, calls and letters.

“We want to prevent people who should not be in the building from getting in,” he says. “It’s a sad reality that is happening all over the country.”

Two years ago, a swastika was etched into the glass entrance door of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, a synagogue in Salt Lake City’s Sugar House neighborhood.

Antisemitism is “not worse here than other places,” Spector says, “but we are not immune.”

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Opinion: Utah is one of the safest states for Jews as hate crimes rise

09/15/2023 07:20:29 AM


The Deseret News Editorial Board

Rabbi Samuel Spector and Cantor Laurence Loeb review the materials before prerecording the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur service at Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020.Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Utah has a long history of being welcoming to people of the Jewish faith, stretching back to Brigham Young. That is a tradition that must continue.

Earlier this year, the Anti-Defamation League issued a startling report that showed the number of antisemitic incidents in the United States — assaults, vandalism and harassment — was higher in 2022 than in any year since the league began keeping records in 1979. 

Those who think hate crimes against Jews are a thing of the past — something belonging to black-and-white films from Nazi Germany — are sadly mistaken. They exist and are on the rise.

The report identified Utah as one of the safest states from such crimes, with six reported incidents in 2022. But that doesn’t give a clear picture of what congregations face each week, requiring security to be present during services and constant training in response to aggression and violence. That’s happening everywhere.

In 2021, someone etched a swastika on the window of a Jewish synagogue in Salt Lake City.  As Utah Rabbi Avremi Zippel told reporters at the time, “A swastika is not a political statement. A swastika is an image of hate. A swastika represents one thing and one thing only and that is death to the Jews.” And this, the Deseret News reported him saying, is becoming unfortunately more commonplace.

Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish new year, begins Friday evening and ends at sundown Sunday. Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism and Samaritanism, will be observed Sept. 24-25 this year. It is the day of atonement, traditionally including 25 hours of fasting and earnest prayer. Many observant Jews spend most of the day in a synagogue.

These sacred days of observance would be a good time for the rest of the community to pledge to confront and resist hatred of any form directed toward Jews. Locally, it should be a time to renew the long-standing and historic bond between Judaism and the greater Utah community at-large.

That renewal includes remembering history. Jewish settlers came to Utah, or the territory of Deseret, as it was known then, not long after the first pioneers. They came because word had spread as to how friendly pioneer settlers were toward them. 

A history published on notes some of these new settlers established profitable businesses. In 1865, Brigham Young “offered a hall gratis for religious services. On the High Holy Days that year, 50 Jews attended services, including some from Bozeman, in Montana Territory.”

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Pride month kicks off in Utah with interfaith service

05/31/2023 11:21:52 PM


Sydnee Gonzalez,

SALT LAKE CITY — The ribbons came in a variety of sizes, lengths and colors. Some were thin and sparkly; others were thick and multicolored. But hundreds of people picked one of the ribbons up as they walked through the doors of First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City for a Pride Interfaith Service on Wednesday night.

Some wore them around their necks or held them in a bunched-up pile in their hands. And during moments of solidarity, joy and celebration, people waved the ribbons in the air.

Eventually, attendees tied the ribbons together and wove them into a rainbow as what has become an anthem for the gay community, Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," was sung in the background. The ribbon mosaic represented the diversity of the individuals in the room and the connection between all humans, according to event organizers.

It was one of many messages of love, belonging, pride and joy shared during the Pride Interfaith Service. The event included leaders from wide a variety of faiths and beliefs — ranging from Pagan and Jewish to Buddhist, Universalist and Christian.

The service was hosted by the Utah Pride Interfaith Coalition, an organization of local faith traditions formed almost two decades ago in an effort to show that LGBTQ people can also be people of faith.

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‘This could only happen in Utah’ — Jewish congregation celebrates 50 years of an unlikely union

05/11/2023 06:00:02 AM


Peggy Fletcher Stack, Salt Lake Tribune


In 1973, Salt Lake City’s two small Jewish congregations — one Conservative, the other Reform — did something bold and, frankly, almost unthinkable in their respective traditions.

They merged to create Congregation Kol Ami, which means “all my people.”

Though not without bumps, the new community has continued to thrive for decades.

This week, hundreds of Kol Ami members, their neighbors and friends, gathered at This Is the Place Heritage Park to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the state’s largest synagogue.

“This could only happen in Utah, where we all seem to love each other,” Rabbi Samuel Spector said in his opening remarks. “We celebrate that coming together.”

Apostle Gerrit W. Gong of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints echoed that sentiment at the party.

“As we celebrate Congregation Kol Ami’s 50th anniversary, we celebrate many more years of rich association in Utah as neighbors and friends, brothers and sisters,” Gong told the assembled guests. “The friendship and community of our peoples span back to Brigham Young and continue forward to today.”

Latter-day Saint leaders “acknowledge the mutual respect our communities enjoy,” Gong said. “Our heartfelt desire is that this relationship will continue to grow in a spirit of trust and goodwill.”

Cantor Sharon Brown-Levy, who arrived in the Beehive State from Toronto two years ago, was effusive.

“We adore it here,” she said in an interview. “We are going to grow the community together.”

It was exciting to share this moment with the larger community, said Faye Lincoln, who has been on Kol Ami’s board for two years, “and to watch the congregation expand as so many new people are moving into the state.”

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Congregation Kol Ami celebrates 50 years, and ongoing relationship with Latter-day Saints

05/07/2023 10:56:11 PM


Emily Ashcraft,

Rabbi Samuel Spector prepares to speak during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Kol Ami synagogue in Salt Lake City on Sunday. (Photo: Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The 50th anniversary celebration for Congregation Kol Ami on Sunday was also a celebration of community and connection as Rabbi Samuel Spector thanked government leaders and the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for their support of the small Jewish community in Salt Lake City.

Kol Ami is a unique Jewish congregation; it began when two different congregations joined forces — Congregation B'nai Israel, a congregation of reformed Jews, and Congregation Montefiore, which was a group of conservative Jews. The congregation, with about 350 families, is about one-fourth of Utah's Jewish population.

"Fifty years ago, our community decided to do something incredibly bold, something that hadn't been done, really anywhere in the country. And that was bring two different movements of Judaism together, to create one community — Kol Ami — which means all our people," Rabbi Spector said.

He said something like that would only happen in Utah, where people look out for each other and love each other despite differences. Rabbi Spector said friends, family and the community coming together has inspired people around the world.

Rabbi Spector said when he learned he would be moving from a predominately Jewish community in Los Angeles, to Utah, where a very small portion of people are Jewish, he called a rabbi friend to ask what it was like to be a minority group. Initially, the other rabbi said it was hard dealing with antisemitism, but then when he heard Rabbi Spector was going to Utah, the rabbi said, "Oh, Latter-day Saints love you guys."

His experience has confirmed that, Rabbi Spector said, along with the experience of Jewish people since they arrived in Utah 150 years ago. He said members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to Utah to escape persecution, which is similar to the background of many Jews.

Rabbi Spector said it has been "incredibly touching" to see leadership from major political parties reaching out to see how they can help the Jewish community, despite the religion being a very small minority. He said politicians have proven over and over that they will support the Jewish community.

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall also spoke at the celebration.

Mendenhall said that while the Jewish population makes up fewer than 2% of the state of Utah, it has a far greater positive impact on the community

"We care about our communities. We care not only about what unites us as Utahns but the things that make us different and unique," Henderson said. "We believe that harmony is being different together, and that's what this congregation represents."

The relationship between government and faith communities, she said, is important to the state's history, and she looks forward to the next 50 years of the congregation. Henderson read a proclamation recognizing May 2023 as the 50th anniversary of the Kol Ami congregation.

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Mon, September 25 2023 10 Tishrei 5784