This past Friday evening, June 25, congregants and neighbors of the Bukharian shul Ner Mordechai Congregation in Kew Gardens were left in alarm after a homemade boxed firework, similar to an M-80 firecracker, exploded just outside its gated enclosure at the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard around 7:45 p.m. There were no known injuries or damage to infrastructure. As a precaution, the bomb squad, fire marshal, and police remained to investigate.

Yosef Daniel, a local resident, like many of his friends, believed that the shul, a longstanding symbol of eclectic Jewish pride for the neighborhood, was the target. Authorities later announced that the incident was not believed to be a hate crime. The NYPD released a statement shortly after 10:30 p.m. on the night of the incident: “At this time it appears the incident has no connection to a synagogue in the vicinity.” The NYPD continued to investigate the incident at 8233 Lefferts Blvd., where a dispute appears to have arisen between a 22-year-old Uber Eats deliveryman on the street and two individuals in a tan Chevy van who tossed a firework onto the sidewalk that was set off as they drove away.

As white smoke filled the air, area residents were frightened that the shul was under attack. “I thought for a moment that a manhole exploded,” said Shula, who was on her way to a Friday night Shabbos meal. “There was a loud boom, and I could see the windows of a nearby building shaking. To say I was frightened would be an understatement.”

Another neighbor reported, “This was an explosion that you can feel deep in your guts. Imagine a car backfiring on steroids.” “It was like a mini-structure collapsing,” said another shul-goer. By the time the congregants departed the evening minyan, police had filled the streets.”

As the scene became more active, residents were urged to stay far away. By 8:45 p.m., New York City Emergency Management called for the public to avoid the area, as there were road closures and emergency personnel in the vicinity.

Markiel Babekov told CBS 2 News, “I was in the synagogue. We were in the middle of a service, and we just heard a huge bang, and everybody was just a little bit kind of alarmed. We were not sure what it was a bang about.”

Seth Goodstein, the Queens Regional Manager for CSI (Community Security Initiative, a venture of the UJA Federation of New York and JCRC-NY), arrived at the scene about 10:15 p.m., where he was greeted by the NYPD’s commanding officer. The group later released a statement: “CSI remains in touch with NYPD and will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates as appropriate. Had this been a threatening situation, CSI would have immediately informed you in real time.”

Congresswoman Grace Meng, New York State Senator Leroy Comrie, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, and Assembly Members Daniel Rosenthal and Andrew Hevesi released a joint statement saying they were “extremely disturbed” by the incident and thanked the 102nd NYPD Precinct for their swift response and investigation. “Thankfully, no one was reported injured, and at this time, it appears the incident was the result of a personal dispute not in connection with the synagogue itself. Still, this serves as a reminder that we must maintain our vigilance in watching out for our community.”

By Shabsie Saphirstein