Chicago synagogue refuses to be cowed by terror threat

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The halls of this Jewish center on Chicago's lakeshore rang with the chatter of children a day after congregants learned it was the target of a botched attempt to ship a bomb here from Yemen.

People here were certainly frightened and disturbed by the news that Congregation Or Chadash - a gay and lesbian congregation which shares the space with a Jewish day school and the Emmanuel Congregation -- was one of at least two Chicago Jewish institutions targeted in the plot.

But they insisted they would not be cowed by terrorists.

"It's a little frightening," said Linda Projansky, who spent Sunday morning at the center making blankets for an upcoming holiday sale with members of Congregation Emmanuel's knitting group.

"You can't let it stop you, because it you let it stop you from doing stuff, they win."

Two parcels containing explosive materials were discovered on cargo planes in Britain and Dubai Thursday and Friday and US officials said they were addressed to Chicago synagogues.

US President Barack Obama has made it clear he suspects the involvement of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based branch of Osama bin Laden's extremist network.

The FBI immediately warned local Jewish institutions of the threat and word got out Saturday that Or Chadash was one of the targets.

While the package was reportedly addressed to Or Chadash's previous home -- a Unitarian church -- officials at this modest center were on high alert.

The directors of the center have increased security in the wake of the botched plot and are taking the threat very seriously, said Alison Lewin, director of education for Congregation Emmanuel.

But no classes or services were canceled, and none will be.

"It's definitely a shock to realize it's coming to you or, in our case, is coming to a partner, but it's the reality of being a Jewish organization," she told AFP.

"Every Jewish organization knows that at some level there's always a basic threat and that's why we have standard security."

Lewin is worried about how the relatively small congregation has been thrust onto the international stage by the news.

She's spoken to a number of concerned parents and assured them that the children are "as safe as they can be."

And after an exhausting weekend, she's ready for things to get back to normal.

"Judaism commands us to choose life," Lewin said.

"Once I've done everything in my power to secure the safety of our children we have to live our lives. If I get into a car accident, I don't stop driving."

Joanne Kantrowitz was cheerfully cleaning the center's front garden, a thick coat and hat shielding her from the chilly fall wind blowing off nearby Lake Michigan.

She was astonished to hear that the Congregation Or Chadash had been targeted by terrorists in Yemen who know nothing of the people who worship here.

"I take it they're after us in Chicago because our president is from here," she said.

"Am I intimidated? No -- no more than I was before."

Margie Bombin also insisted that she wouldn't let the botched attack frighten her into changing her routines.

But she said she's worried the government is not doing enough to prevent terrorist attacks from succeeding.

"Thank God they caught it, but a lot of times they don't take action until it's a disaster or a near-disaster," she said as she picked her son up from Sunday school.

© 2010 AFP

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