October 30th, 2010
05:10 PM ET
A small Chicago synagogue dedicated to serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community may have been one of the intended destinations of two packages intercepted abroad that were packed with explosive material, a co-president for the congregation said Saturday.
Or Chadash, a congregation of about 100 people, held its Sabbath services Friday with security out in full force.
"It was unnerving, [but] we carried on as normal," Or Chadash's co-president, Lilli Kornblum, told CNN.
"We do always have security when we have congregational events, however last night Chicago police were in much, much higher visibility," she said. "And we were on higher alert for people we don't know or anyone who might be carrying backpacks, packages, that sort of thing."
Kornblum said Or Chadash was notified that it was a potential target by the rabbi of Emanuel Congregation - another synagogue from which Or Chadash leases space - who received word from a source in the Chicago's Jewish community who is close to authorities.
Emanuel Congregation, however, was apparently not a target.
Earlier, Kornblum had told CNN that Emanuel Congregation's rabbi had received his information directly from authorities.
But in an interview with CNN Saturday, Emanuel Congregation's senior rabbi, Michael Zedek, said he had been notified that Or Chadash was a threat from a Chicago Jewish source "who's well connected to authorities."
Zedek said he heard from the source - who he said requested anonymity - on Friday night.
"People are asking are we frightened," Zedek told CNN, "and the truth of the matter is we're not frightened, we're saddened."
Chicago FBI spokesman Royden Rice would not confirm or deny that Or Chadash was a target.
"We notified both targets yesterday," Rice told CNN Saturday. "We always notify potential victims of crime. If they wish to reveal who they are, it's up to them."
Synagogues across metropolitan Chicago began taking "appropriate precautions" Friday after receiving warning from security officials to watch out for suspicious packages from abroad, according to a Jewish Federation spokeswoman.
President Barack Obama said that two packages that apparently contained explosive materials were bound for "two places of Jewish worship in Chicago," but did not name them.
"[We were] surprised, because we're very, very small," Kornblum said, adding that the 35-year-old synagogue had been trying to get noticed to potentially gain more congregants. "This isn't what we had in mind."
Kornblum said she's "distressed" about the apparent threat, but expressed gratitude for the authorities who were able to intercept the packages.
The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago was contacted by federal officials Friday morning to urge the organization to be on alert for suspicious packages, spokeswoman Linda Haase said.
Lucille Price, a receptionist at Anshe Emet Synagogue, said Chicago police made them aware of the reports and asked them to keep an eye out for suspicious packages among any deliveries that arrived Friday.
But congregation leaders at two prominent Chicago synagogues, Temple Sholom and Chicago Sinai Congregation, said they were not made aware of any attempts to ship bombs or hazardous material to them.
The Anti-Defamation League, meanwhile, sent notice to Jewish organizations across the country on Friday to increase mailroom security and to immediately report suspicious activity to law enforcement.
In New York on Saturday, a police counterterrorism unit conducted a drill outside the Central Synagogue in midtown Manhattan. Members of the New York Police Department's Hercules unit, which conducted the drill, are highly trained and heavily armed.
New York has not received specific threats related to Friday's plot, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told CNN.
The Jewish Federation's Haase said she had not heard reports of Chicago congregations altering plans for services on Friday evening, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath.
"Everything was fine. Services were held as usual with no signs of anxiety," said Rabbi Michael Sternfield, who leads Chicago Sinai, after services Friday night. "There is really nothing to report."
Steven Bob, the rabbi at a synagogue in the western Chicago suburbs, said Friday that he was not concerned about the exposed plot.
"We generally pay careful attention to packages coming to the synagogue, accepting only those we're expecting or from a known sender," he said. "Today we were extra careful."
Bob said that there was plenty of email and phone traffic among Chicago Jewish leaders responding to news of the plot on Friday but that he didn't think worshippers would be deterred from Friday services.
"We live in a world that contains some people that are hostile to us and we want to respond to that hostility with caution," said Bob, who leads Etz Chaim in Lombard, Illinois. "At the same time, we're not going to go hide in the basement."
"I may say a word or two about this tonight, but I don't think it's worthy of a sermon," he said Friday. "What am I going to say, that I'm opposed to terrorism?"
- CNN's Susan Candiotti, Dan Gilgoff and Ross Levitt contributed to this report.
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