Molotov cocktail hurled at Bloomfield synagogue; Clifton man arrested

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BLOOMFIELD, NJ — On Sunday, Jan. 29 — just two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day — antisemitism was on clear display in Essex County, when an unknown individual hurled a Molotov cocktail at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield. A Passaic County man was arrested Feb. 1 for the crime, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.

Nicholas Malindretos, 26, of Clifton, is charged by complaint with one count of attempted use of fire to damage and destroy a building used in interstate commerce. If convicted, Malindretos faces a minimum of five years in prison, a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 29, Bloomfield police officers responded to Temple Ner Tamid on a report of property damage. Upon the officers’ arrival, it was quickly determined that a Molotov cocktail had been thrown at the temple’s front door. 

Video surveillance from the temple showed one male suspect approach the front door at 3:19 a.m. with a Molotov cocktail. He then lit it and threw it at the front door. The glass bottle broke and the fire went out on impact, not causing any visible damage to the temple. The suspect then fled down the driveway. 

Bloomfield detectives, along with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office; the FBI; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were notified of the incident. A joint investigation remains active. 

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a license plate reading device located nearby recorded a vehicle passing by the scene shortly before and shortly after the incident. Law enforcement officers located the vehicle in Clifton and saw several items consistent with the video of the incident plainly visible inside. They obtained a search warrant for the vehicle. Video cameras in the area where the vehicle was parked captured the vehicle parking and a male individual with the same physical characteristics as Malindretos exiting the vehicle and entering a nearby building.

If anyone has any information on this incident, they are encouraged to call the Bloomfield Police Department Detective Bureau at 973-680-4084 and email any videos to [email protected] The Essex County Sheriff’s Crime Stoppers Program offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for this attack. Additionally, StandWithUs, an organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism, offered a $5,000 reward.

According to a Jan. 29 statement from the synagogue, Ner Tamid has been in touch with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and the Anti-Defamation League regarding this incident. Synagogue leaders are grateful that their recently enhanced security efforts proved effective during this incident, in part due to the New Jersey Nonprofit Security Grant the synagogue received from the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. Officials also praised the Bloomfield Police Department for its officers’ quick response and professionalism.

“As angry and sad as I am about what happened early this morning, I want to tell you why I’m hopeful,” Rabbi Marc Katz of Temple Ner Tamid said. “In the midst of everything happening, I was able to name a young girl in our community. Surrounded by her family and friends, her parents celebrated her, giving her a Jewish name that tied her to her ancestors and to our people. That naming is what Judaism is. That naming is what Judaism should be. 

“We have and will continue to do everything in our power to keep our community safe. Everything worked as it should. Our cameras recorded the incident, and our shatter-resistant doors held,” Katz continued. “But what I cannot do is convince our community not to grow despondent. There is hate everywhere, and hate wins when we let it penetrate. When the weight of this grows too heavy, I remind my congregation that every day, despite what is happening, in Jewish communities around the world, babies are named, children are educated, people are married. Our religious traditions continue. No act of hate can stop the power of religious freedom.”

Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia expressed his appreciation for the Bloomfield police and condemned this act of antisemitism.

“Hate and antisemitism will not be tolerated and have no place in our welcoming community,” Venezia said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with our entire Jewish community.”

Following the suspect’s arrest, Venezia said while he was pleased to learn of the arrest, the work is not done to prevent similar crimes from happening again.

“It came with great relief to learn that the individual responsible for committing this heinous hate crime has been brought to justice; nevertheless, we will continue to work diligently with the community through this difficult time. I want to assure our residents that we stand united in our opposition to all forms of hate and discrimination in Bloomfield, and are committed to maintaining a safe and inclusive environment for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation,” Venezia said. “On behalf of the township, I would like to extend our sincerest gratitude to the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety; the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office; and especially the Bloomfield Police Department for their tireless efforts and collaboration in arresting the individual responsible. We are grateful and proud to have such dedicated and professional law enforcement agencies working to keep Bloomfield a safe community to live and work.”

Antisemitism is on the rise nationwide and globally. According to research conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, there were a total of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism against Jews in the United States in 2021 — a 34-percent increase from the year before and approximately seven per day. According to FBI hate crime statistics from 2020, the latest available year, antisemitic hate crimes made up 58 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States and nearly 10 percent of all hate crimes. This is despite the fact that Jews make up only approximately 2.4 percent of our country’s population.

In an effort to combat this hatred, Temple Ner Tamid will host an interfaith rally against hate tonight, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. at 936 Broad St. in Bloomfield.

Glen Ridge Mayor Stuart K. Patrick, speaking on behalf of the borough council, condemned the attack and reiterated his past statement that “the borough must be a place that respects our differences and believes that diverse perspectives enhance the cultural fabric and overall welfare of our community for current and future generations. I am joined by the borough council in standing against hate and discrimination in all forms and fostering diversity.”

“To those affected by this incident, our hearts go out to you and know that hate has no home in the borough of Glen Ridge,” Patrick said.

West Orange Township released a statement expressing that its officials “stand resolute in denouncing the cowardly acts of hate perpetrated against our Jewish brothers and sisters anywhere. Acts of antisemitism or bias attacks against any faction of our society, whether physical, verbal or symbolic, cannot be tolerated.”

West Orange is home to a large Jewish population and houses several synagogues.

“Such heinous and despicable actions against any one group or individual are considered an attack against us all and our deeply rooted community values,” read the statement. “Neighborly love, unwavering unity and mutual respect will rule the day as West Orange will work to set the standard in always recognizing cultural diversity as our impregnable strength. Those residents who bore witness to the Holocaust and the sacrifice of our World War II veterans is the enduring legacy of our fight against bigotry today.”

In a joint statement, Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis and South Orange Village President Sheena Collum called the incident an “abominable act of violence.”

“We’re deeply saddened and disgusted by the news of yet another act of hate turned into violence last night when an individual attempted to blow up Temple Ner Tamid in nearby Bloomfield,” said Dafis and Collum on behalf of the Maplewood Township Committee and South Orange Board of Trustees. “Fortunately, no one was hurt, but we were reminded yet again of the rising tide of antisemitism in an existing toxic climate of intolerance. We have been in contact with our federal and state partners, including the attorney general’s office, to ensure that no other known threats exist at this time. Our local law enforcement agencies are supporting security at all of our local synagogues, and we’ve been coordinating all efforts with faith leaders in both towns. We remain vigilant against antisemitism and proudly stand with our Jewish community.”

South Orange Police Chief Ernesto Morillo announced that, in response to the attack, the SOPD increased patrols at area synagogues and is working with Jewish leaders in the community to ensure optimal communication.

“South Orange police denounce antisemitism and any acts of hate towards any members of our community and will vigorously investigate any evidence that leads to the apprehension and conviction of any person(s) engaged in such activity,” Morillo said.

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. similarly condemned the attack.

“The firebombing at Temple Ner Tamid is a hateful act that cannot be tolerated,” DiVincenzo said. “I stand in solidarity with the synagogue and its congregation to condemn this attack. I always say that the strength of Essex County is our diversity. Our residents come from many different countries, cultures and backgrounds, but we all must come together as a united county and show respect and kindness for our neighbors. There is no place in our society for this kind of violence.”

The Essex County Board of County Commissioners also spoke out against the attack at Ner Tamid.

“Acts of violence against any individual or group can’t be tolerated,” Commissioner President Wayne L. Richardson said. “If we are silent about a Molotov cocktail today, what will tomorrow bring?”

Commissioner Vice President Carlos M. Pomares, of District 5, which includes Bloomfield, reinforced his support of the Ner Tamid congregation. 

“We stand by the members of the Jewish community and remain committed in our resolve to work with law enforcement and community leaders to deter acts of violence, ensuring justice prevails,” Pomares said. “Hate of any kind will not be tolerated.” 

N.J. Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin affirmed his office’s involvement in investigating the Bloomfield attack and commitment to holding the perpetrator responsible.

“My office is working closely with local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies to identify and apprehend the suspect in this attack. Our investigation remains ongoing,” Platkin said. “We are cognizant of the fact that these attacks have occurred while violence continues to erupt in Israel, and while our own nation reckons with violence at home. I want to reassure all New Jerseyans — especially our friends and neighbors of the black community and the Jewish faith — that law enforcement continues to take the appropriate steps to increase our presence around sensitive places so that everyone in our state can worship, love and live without fear of violence or threat.”

Following the announcements of the arrest, law enforcement officials released the following statements:

“No one should find that their lives are at risk by exercising their faith,” Sellinger said. “The defendant is alleged to have gone to a synagogue in the middle of the night and maliciously attempted to damage and destroy it using a firebomb. Protecting communities of faith and houses of worship is core to this office’s mission. In response to this attempted attack, my office — together with our federal, state and local partners — worked around the clock to investigate this matter swiftly. We will continue to devote whatever resources are necessary to keep our Jewish community and all New Jersey residents safe.”

“I commend and thank the entire New Jersey law enforcement community for their seamless collaboration and tireless efforts to identify and apprehend the suspect in Sunday’s attack on Temple Ner Tamid,” Platkin said. “In New Jersey, we stand united against hate and bias, and we speak with one voice to show that our state will remain a place where all can live and worship freely and safely.”

“Newark FBI and our law enforcement partners have been working around the clock since Sunday morning, after being notified someone targeted the Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield,” FBI Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy said. “We allege Mr. Malindretos threw a Molotov cocktail at the doors of the synagogue. The speed and intensity of this investigation demonstrates our determination and dedication to protecting houses of worship and protecting their congregations. We take seriously all threats of hate and bias aimed at all religions and faiths, and we intend to hold accountable all those who target them.”

“An alleged attempted firebombing on a house of worship is an attack against the entire community,” acting ATF Special Agent in Charge Bryan Miller said. “We are honored to work side by side with our local, state and federal partners to bring today’s charge.”

“The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has long understood that our interfaith community is one of the prime targets for hate,” acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II said. “Although we are always troubled by events such as this, we are pleased by the extraordinary efforts undertaken by all involved in Essex County law enforcement to bring this charge.”

The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty.

Staff Writer Daniel Jackovino contributed reporting to this story.

Photos of suspect courtesy of Bloomfield Police Department; Photos of governor courtesy of Phil Murphy