(From left) Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
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The Los Angeles Police Department issued an alert to all Jewish day schools and synagogues after two men were shot early this morning in the parking lot of Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic synagogue.
Avi Barkay, a nephew of Adat Yeshurun’s Rabbi Amram Gabay, identified the victims as Maor Ben-Nissan, 37, and Allen Lasry, who was said to be in his late 40s. Both men were wounded in the legs.
The victims were taken to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center and Valley Presbyterian Hospital, said Rabbi Yossi Malka, a chaplain with the LAPD. Ben-Nissan is currently at Holy Cross in Mission Hills, where he is recovering from surgery, according to the Los Angeles Times. Valley Presbyterian in Van Nuys would not comment on Lasry’s current condition.
The shooting took place at 6:18 a.m. in the subterranean parking structure of the synagogue, located at 12405 Sylvan St. in North Hollywood, south of Victory Boulevard, just before the second of three morning minyanim, or prayer services.
LAPD Deputy Chief Michel R. Moore said a man with a gun approached two men on their way into the synagogue for morning prayers. Congregants who were inside the synagogue at the time reported hearing four shots fired.
A press conference was held this morning near the synagogue. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced that the crime at this point is being treated as a random act of violence and not a hate crime. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said “We live in a world where hate crimes are part of our reality,” but he would not speculate as to whether this morning’s events constitute a hate crime.
Classes at the synagogue’s elementary school were cancelled for the day.
There are some 18 synagogues in the North Hollywood area. Adat Yeshurun is located in an area with a large Orthodox Jewish population, with many kosher stores nearby.
Yehuda Oz, 53, a member of the synagogue, said he was inside with roughly 20 other congregants preparing to begin morning services when he heard four shots.
One of the victims ran into the synagogue “screaming for help,” Oz said.
Congregants called police, who responded within 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Oz said, they cleaned up the victims’ blood.
The shooter fled on foot and is still at large.
Police responded at the scene, where the two victims, both Jewish, were stabilized and were reported to be in good condition.
The shooter was described as an African American male wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. Police detained one man, a 17-year-old male, for questioning, but he was later released.
“The description of the shooter was a loose match,” Moore said.
Hatzolah, the Jewish emergency aid team, responded with four volunteers after hearing news of the shooting on local television stations. In addition to the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Cooper, also present on the scene were representatives of Chabad, the Anti-Defamation League, The Jewish Federation Valley Alliance and Jewish Family Services.
The volunteers have helped police in notifying local synagogues.
“We don’t know if this is the first of many,” Hatzolah’s Zvika Brenner said. “You can’t take these things for granted.”
Adat Yeshurun has closed-circuit video, and police are reviewing the footage for possible leads. The synagogue hires security for its weekend services, but not during the week.
Adat Yeshurun is the spritual home of 150 families from Cuba, Argentina, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia, Libya and Israel. The synagogue is also the Valley warehouse location for Tomchei Shabbos, an organization that provides assistance to the poor, including Shabbat meals.