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Sheriff patrols increase at Summit County synagogue

More than 400 families belong to Park City's Temple Har Shalom.
Jon Scarlet
Increased patrols by the Summit County Sheriff's Office will continue.

Summit County sheriff deputies will be increasing their presence at the Wasatch Back’s only Jewish synagogue in the weeks to come.

Summit County Sheriff Frank Smith says, given the recent world events of Hamas attacking Israel and the escalating war, protecting the local Jewish community is a top priority. He says deputies are stepping up patrols at Park City’s Temple Har Shalom.

“We're concerned for the safety of the Jewish community here in Summit County, not that there's any known threats right now,” Smith said. “But my concern more would be not a terrorist group, but possibly, you know, someone that's affiliated with Neo Nazis, or something of that nature. It seems like when these kinds of world events go on, things of that nature are heightened. So, we are doing a lot more patrols in the area.”

He's also advised his deputies that when they’re out on patrol and have paperwork to do, that they do that in the temple parking lot.

He’s been in contact with the temple leadership to ask what they need when it comes to ensuring their safety.

Smith says he met with the temple leadership a few weeks ago, before any of this happened, and will meet again this week to discuss any other needs they may have.

“We're pretty in tune with the community and what we think the threats are,” the sheriff said. “But you know, with the Jewish community, this has been a threat we’ve felt for years. So, we've always had a great open relationship with them. And when they need a deputy or they want to hire somebody part time for security, it's usually one of our deputies. So, this has been an ongoing conversation prior to the horrific events that recently have happened.”

The sheriff says there have been no credible threats against the local temple. But that’s not been the case for the rest of the state. Alex Shapiro is the executive director of the United Jewish Federation of Utah. He says they are not a religious agency, but a unifying organization to connect, educate and care for the Jewish community. Antisemitism, he says, has been around for 2,500 years but the federal statistics for hate and bigotry incidents have significantly increased over the last six years.

“Per the FBI’ s recent stats, more than 60% of religious-based hate crimes happen against the Jewish community, which only represents 2% of our population in the United States,” Shapiro said. “So, it's wholly disproportionate. And it's why the Jewish community is constantly on edge and is constantly aware and doing things to help keep all who participate in our various institutions, safe and welcome.”

The Hamas rampage on Saturday happened during the Jewish festival of Sukkot – a joyful time that follows the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur. Shapiro says it was the most significant assault on Israel in 50 years and the deadliest day for the Jewish world since the end of the Holocaust.

“The Jewish community nerves have been cut raw,” Shapiro said. “Everyone has been affected. Everybody knows somebody. And we're all suffering for that.”

Moving forward, Sheriff Smith says he has no timeframe as to when the increased patrols might end. His goal is to be proactive and he believes the increased presence will deter future criminal activity.