Hundreds of men, women and children came together in prayer Sunday afternoon to remember a grandfather, father and rabbi who was gunned down on his way to synagogue the day before.
As soon as the hearse pulled up in front of Bais Menachem Chabad, 1005 NE 172nd Ter., with the body of Joseph Raksin inside, at least a dozen religious men in traditional black hats and long jackets gathered in prayer. Several minutes later, dozens more joined in. Women and children stood to the side, many praying quietly.
“We should never forget the value of human life,” said Raksin’s son-in-law, who identified himself as Izzy but declined to give his last name, after a brief funeral service.
Raksin was walking east on Northeast 175th Street and Eighth Court at about 9 a.m. Saturday when he was confronted by two young men, police said. He was then shot by one of the men, police said.
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As the hearse pulled away Sunday afternoon, heading toward Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for the return of the rabbi’s body to Brooklyn, hundreds of people walked behind the black car as it inched its way along Northeast 10th Avenue.
Raksin’s death has shaken a tight-knit Orthodox community in Northeast Miami-Dade, leaving many people with more questions than answers. On edge after an incident that happened last month when swastikas and the word Hamas were found painted on a nearby temple, many feared Raksin’s death could be linked.
“I don’t feel safe,” said Northeast Miami-Dade resident and mother of four Shulamis Tyberg at a peaceful rally Sunday afternoon outside of the Intracoastal Miami-Dade police station, a few miles from the neighborhood. “If this is in fact a hate crime, we want police to treat it that way.”
Police did not release new information Sunday, but were planning a briefing on Monday morning. On Saturday, Miami-Dade police spokeswoman Elena Hernandez said there was “no indication of this being a hate crime.”
Police indicated they were searching for two young male suspects, one of whom may have fled on a bicycle. The other may have run from the area.
A witness, who would not give his name, said Sunday that he was on his way to temple when he heard a gunshot and then a scream and then saw a man lying on the ground.
“They were just walking away nonchalantly,” he said of the two men. “When I saw they were coming in my direction, I went inside. I feared for my life.”
He said he did not see a bicycle or an altercation as police have indicated.
Izzy said his visiting father-in-law, who worked in a kosher vitamin business for about 30 years before retiring, had a muffin for breakfast with his relatives on Saturday before leaving the home to pray.
“He came here just to see his grandkids,” he said.
The rabbi, who did not lead his own temple in Brooklyn, left the Northeast Miami-Dade home about five minutes before the rest of his family. Raksin, who has six children and seven grandchildren, was planning on seeing his other daughter in West Palm Beach next week.
On Saturday, when the rabbi’s son-in-law was on his way to temple, he noticed a commotion on the street, but didn’t know his father-in-law had been shot. When Izzy arrived at the synagogue and didn’t see his father-in-law there or at another nearby temple, he said he felt something was wrong. So he headed back.
“I saw him lying on the floor,” he said.
Raksin was taken by air to Ryder Trauma where he died.
When word of the killing spread in the community, many started fearing for their own lives.
"I am scared to walk to shul by myself," said 13-year-old Hada Balgley. "I can't believe this happened here."
The close community, in an area of unincorporated Northeast Miami-Dade near North Miami Beach, has more than 10 synagogues along a mile-stretch. On the Jewish Sabbath, hundreds of faithful walk to temple. People in the area say that most people know observant Jews do not carry anything, including money and phones, on the Sabbath.
The community is offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.
Miami-Dade police have not commented on whether the shooting was connected to a robbery attempt on Raksin.
Yona Lunger, an area Jewish community activist and member of the Shmira Patrol — a neighborhood watch group — said Sunday the community is heartbroken over Raksin's death.
"We want answers," he said. "This whole community is in mourning."