Chicago, IL – Members and leaders of the Chicago area Jewish faith received written notices Sunday from a special unit of the Chicago Police Department informing people to be on alert for violence or attacks by antisemites during a national “Day of Hate” on Saturday, Feb. 25.
The alert was emailed to synagogues and Jews throughout the Chicagoland area by the 24th Police District Worship Safety Advisory Team.” The unit had learned about the potential “Day of Hate” from an organization from New York that monitors underground or “dark” social messages of hate from online users across the globe.
“This antisemitic proposed event has instructed like-minded individuals to drop banners, place stickers and flyers and vandalize by way of graffiti as forms of biased so-called activism,” the alert read. “These organizers request that potential actions be recorded and/or photographed to submit online.”
Rabbi Binyomin Scheiman of the Chabad & F.R.E.E. of Niles, confirmed Monday that his congregation is aware of the alert. He said similar alerts are sent out from time to time. He also confirmed that many synagogues in the Chicago area hire security during religious services. It’s also believed that some congregation members bring with them to services concealed carry guns. Chabad represents Jews from numerous local suburbs including Des Plaines, Park Ridge, Niles and Morton Grove.
Chicago Police Officers Michael Specht and Roger Heath, Jr., who founded the Worship Safety Advisory Team in 2018 following the Nov. 4, 2018 murder of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, urged recipients of the alert and others to “keep situationally aware and pay attention to your surroundings.” Any suspicious activity should be reported immediately by calling 9-1-1. Six other people were wounded in the Pittsburgh attack by a man believed to be an anti-semite.
According to officer Specht, the general public is unable to monitor underground social media posts. The special organization in New York can perform the monitoring as part of a counterterrorism effort. Besides synagogues, the two officers have sent out alerts to area churches, mosques and other organizations where a threat is believed to have been made. The 24th District where Specht and Heath work out of is in the area of Clark Street and Devon Avenue on Chicago’s north side.
Approximately 40 synagogues operate within two square miles in the Rogers Park area of Chicago and many more in the north and northwest suburbs.
“These are our dedicated, full-time jobs,” Specht added. “We have a lot of passion.” He said the Chicago Police Department is the only department that has formed a Worship Safety Advisory Team as far as he knows.