A 60-year-old Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn on his way to a Northeast Miami-Dade synagogue was gunned down Saturday morning during a likely random robbery attempt, according to Miami-Dade police and local Jewish community leaders.
The shooting victim, Joseph Raksin, was walking eastbound on Northeast 175th Street and Eighth Court at about 9 a.m. when he was confronted by two young men. Following an altercation, Raksin was shot by one of the men, police said.
It’s unclear how many shots were fired at Raksin. But the New York rabbi's critical wounds prompted authorities to airlift him to the Ryder Trauma Center, where he later died. A funeral is planned for Sunday afternoon.
The community is offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.
The shooting took place in an area of unincorporated Northeast Miami-Dade near North Miami Beach, where swastikas found painted on a local synagogue last month have worried local Jewish leaders.
“At this time there is no indication of this being a hate crime,” said Miami-Dade police spokeswoman Elena Hernandez in a statement.
She said police are searching for two young male suspects, one of whom may have fled on a bicycle. The other may have run from the area.
Late Saturday, Hava Holzhauer, the Anti-Defamation League Florida Regional Director, whose organization has been in close contact with Miami-Dade homicide investigators, said the crime “appears to be a robbery that went badly.”
“Currently no evidence has been brought to light that it was motivated by anti-Semitism,” Holzhauer said.
Said Holzhauer: “This is a terrible tragedy. While the motivation for this crime is still being investigated, nothing can justify the killing of an innocent man walking to his place of worship to pray on his holy day.”
Miami-Dade police have not commented on whether the shooting was connected to a robbery attempt on Raksin.
Yona Lunger, a local Jewish community activist and member of the Shmira Patrol — a neighborhood watch group — confirmed to the Miami Herald late Saturday that Raksin was an Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn who was in South Florida to visit his granddaughter and other relatives.
Efforts to reach the relatives were unsuccessful.
Raksin was on his way to Bais Menachem, 1005 NE 172nd Ter., when he was shot, said Lunger, who spoke to one witness who told him that — contrary to what Miami-Dade police reported — Raksin had no altercation with the two young men. He said the witness, whom he did not identify, told him that Raksin was shot immediately after the two approached him on Northeast 175th Street.
Another local Jewish community leader, Brian Siegal, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Miami and Broward Regional Office, said he believes Raksin’s shooting may be connected to the recent act of vandalism at the nearby Torah V’Emunah, an Orthodox synagogue, 1000 NE 174th St.
On July 28, police reported that swastikas were spray-painted on the front pillars of a Northeast Miami-Dade synagogue, which has left the local Jewish community on edge, especially amid the heightened tension between Israel and Palestinians over the conflict in Gaza.
Said Siegal: “Our deepest condolences to the [Raksin] family for this tragic loss. We are confident the police will take the matter seriously and will give them time to investigate. Coming so soon and so close to the synagogue that was vandalized last week with swastikas and pro-Hamas graffiti, obviously we’re suspicious that it’s linked, but that remains to be seen.”
Said the ADL in a statement: “The Anti-Defamation League is shocked and horrified by the murder of a Rabbi on his way to synagogue this morning in North Miami Beach. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Rabbi Joseph Raksin’sfamily and the surrounding community.”
Late Saturday, members of Bais Menachem gathered outside the synagogue to talk to reporters about the shooting incident.
Raksin was walking ahead of his grandsons and son-in-law when he was shot, said Rabbi Moshe Druin.
“We are in utter shock,” Druin said.
Druin said community members ruled out a possibility of robbery because Orthodox Jewish do not carry any money or possession on Saturdays, the community’s Sabbath day.
“There hasn’t been a robbery on Sabbath for the past 35 years,” Druin said.
“It definitely is an anomaly,” Peretz Pinhas, another community member said of the shooting.