Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, leader of Congregation Netzach Yisroel, made his first public comments since the December 28 attack during a celebration on the seventh day of Hanukkah in the hamlet of Monsey. Five people were injured, including his son.
Rottenberg said Wednesday his community is still suffering from the attack. He praised a good Samaritan who confronted the suspect and urged people not to politicize the situation.
“Although we, the Hasidic people of Rockland and across New York state, may look different, dress differently, speak a different language and chose to educate our children according to our traditions … we, like many diverse people of Rockland County, are all created in the image of God,” he said, reading a statement outside his home.
“I stand here before you stretching out my hand for peace and unity. Let us put our differences aside and bigotry behind us and work side by side to eradicate hatred,” he said.
‘Still reeling in the aftermath’
Prosecutors said Grafton Thomas, 37, used a machete to attack dozens of people gathered in the rabbi’s home.
Two New York City police officers captured Thomas in Harlem about an hour later.
Thomas has pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder. A judge set his bail at $5 million.
Investigators found a journal in Thomas’ home that referred to “Adolf Hitler” and “Nazi Culture” on the same page as drawings of a Star of David and a swastika, a complaint said.
An internet search history from a cell phone found in Thomas’ car included searches like, “Why did Hitler hate the Jews” and “German Jewish Temples near me,” the complaint said.
Federal prosecutors charged Thomas with obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill – a federal hate crime. A judge ordered him to be detained.
Rottenberg said his community is “still reeling in the aftermath of the horrifying Hanukkah attack and the subsequent trauma.”
One victim, an older congregant, is in dire condition and needs prayers, the rabbi said.
“But despite all the horror, we hold strong and stand tall in our faith in the almighty, especially in recognizing His divine intervention that miraculously allowed the attacker to be subdued by our heroic synagogue manager, Mr. Josef Gluck,” Rottenberg said.
‘Help us eradicate evil’
Gluck, who noticed the suspect entering the rabbi’s home with a machete as the rabbi finished a candlelight ceremony, said he grabbed a coffee table and hit him in the face.
Gluck told CNN he is not a courageous man. “I feel God is a hero. He sent me in the right place in the right time, and he gave me the right state of mind, Gluck said.
The attack in Monsey was among a series of suspected anti-Semitic attacks across New York in recent weeks.
Rottenberg urged Jews, especially youth, to not let the attack bring about feelings of “reprisal or the idea of taking up arms in self-defense.”
There is a state trooper outside the synagogue next to the rabbi’s home, in addition to private security, CNN affiliate WCBS reported. Religious leaders say the synagogue is exploring applying for federal grants to increase their security long term.
Rottenberg said the attack was “a divine call for soul searching” to find ways to “eradicate evil from its source.”
The rabbi closed his remarks Wednesday in prayer.
“Father in heaven, creator of the universe, please help us eradicate evil and hate. Help us to lift and promote the banner of brotherhood and peace,” he said.
CNN’s Christina Maxouris and Holly Yan contributed to this report.