Man Photographing Queens Shul Was Working on Class Project

NEW YORK -

The young man who caused a scare last week when seen photographing a Queens shul, was actually a college student on a class assignment.

Surveillance-camera footage taken last week Monday outside the Young Israel of Queens Valley, located at 141-55 77th Avenue in Kew Gardens Hills, shows a car pulling up across the street from the shul shortly after 10 a.m., and a young man emerging. Several congregants exit the shul, and the man waits until they pass before pulling out a phone or camera and taking photos. He pauses his activity while a car passes, then resumes, and ceases when another congregant emerges.

The incident, which occurred less than a week after a deadly attack on a Jersey City kosher supermarket – and within 14 months of deadly shootings at Jewish congregations in Pittsburgh and Poway, California – caused alarm among congregants. Shul President Dr. Martin Braun sent an email notifying members that the shul was hiring a second armed security guard for Shabbos, and that police would be making extra patrols.

This week Monday, police contacted Braun, informing him that they had tracked down the man in the surveillance video – an 18-year-old student at St. John’s University.

“He is not a terrorist,” Braun wrote in an email to congregants Tuesday. “He was simply carrying out a class assignment, which was to take pictures of cultural institutions in the neighborhood, and then to speak about them in class. The detectives verified this with his professor. The driver of the car was his mother!”

“Thank G-d, this incident turned out to just be a harmless mistake,” Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal told Hamodia. “But it’s a sad indication that we live in a time of rising anti-Semitism, when people are fearful and all precautions are necessary.”

rborchardt@hamodia.com