Long Beach police announced Monday that they arrested Hunter McLerath, 23, on suspicion of being behind the breaking in and theft of sifrei Torah and silver Torah crowns from Chabad of Long Beach.
McLerath is being charged with burglary, criminal mischief, and grand larceny. He is alleged to have “intentionally damaged” the shul and stolen sefarim, Torah scrolls, and silver.
The robbery was discovered by a congregant who was checking in around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night and called the police.
Rabbi Eli Green told Hamodia they found “the shul was in disarray” with two sifrei Torah thrown to the floor and talleism scattered around. They also found footprints belonging to the thief.
Earlier on Shabbos, silver crowns were discovered washed up on the beach, and Rabbi Green said they believe the thief attempted to his what had been stolen in the beach or discarded in the water, only for them to wash ashore. They are considering renting a boat to search for what else can be found.
Though much of what was stolen was recovered, two sifrei Torah are still missing. Shomrim of Rockaway-Nassau is working with the NYPD special operations unit in case they wash up on the shores of Brooklyn or elsewhere in New York City.
On Sunday, police arrested McLerath, who had been arrested earlier that day for disorderly conduct in the park.
Rabbi Green said that it was not yet clear if the robbery was antisemitic; he noted McLerath is currently hospitalized and seems to be suffering from mental illness and that no swastikas or any hateful messages were left in the shul. But, he emphasized, McLerath still targeted a Jewish institution.
The Chabad had only just begun holding davening and events in the building, and it had been the first Shabbos they’d had there.
“We though we’d have a quiet, soft opening without so much fanfare, but unfortunately we have this whole tragedy,” Rabbi Green said. Now, he is getting “more security, better locks, upgrading our security system right now.”
The Long Beach police department could not be reached for comment.
Updated Monday, August 23, 2021 at 11:27 am .
Updated Monday, August 23, 2021 at 11:28 am .
Updated Monday, August 23, 2021 at 12:15 pm .