Miami-Dade County

Police: No sign so far rabbi’s slaying was a hate crime

On the same day hundreds of people gathered in front of the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, for Rabbi Joseph Raksin’s funeral, the Miami-Dade Police Department vowed to find the people responsible for his death and urged witnesses to step forward.

“I can assure you that the Miami-Dade Police Department is utilizing all of its resources to apprehend the perpetrators of this crime,” Chief Alfredo Ramirez said at a news conference Monday.

As police continued to investigate the shooting, which took place Saturday as Raksin walked to Bais Menachem Chabad at 1005 NE 172nd Ter., they said there was no evidence that it was a hate crime and might have been a robbery gone wrong.

“Until we have additional information, we won’t know with certainty what the motive was for this crime,” said Maj. Hector Llevat, who heads the department’s homicide bureau. “Right now, there are no indications that it was a hate crime or related to a hate crime. However, we are not closing that door, and we are not ruling anything out.”

Raksin’s death sparked fear in a tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community already on edge after swastikas and the word Hamas appeared on a Northeast Miami-Dade temple July 28.

“I want my children to feel safe and be able to express their Jewishness openly,” said Devorah Handwerger, a mother of four, at a rally Sunday outside the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Intracoastal station on Biscayne Boulevard to ask police not to rule out hate as a motive.

On Sunday, a swastika and iron cross were scratched into a BMW while a Northeast Miami-Dade rabbi and his wife attended a brief memorial for Raksin outside Bais Menachem before his body was flown to Brooklyn.

Police on Monday confirmed that they had the vandalism report on the BMW and were looking into it. They could not, however, link the crimes.

Yona Lunger, a community activist and member of the Shmira Patrol — a neighborhood watch group — said “things are getting out of hand.”

“We are looking for answers,” he said.

While police said the shooting might have occurred as part of a robbery, others questioned that possibility.

“It would appear initially, early observations, that it could be perhaps a robbery,” said Maj. Llevat. “This gentleman was an observant religious man, so information is that he did not or would not have a wallet or anything of value on him at that moment. The fact that a person did or not have valuables on them does not rule out that it could have been a robbery because that would assume that the perpetrator knew that.”

Rabbi Phineas Weberman, the president of the Rabbinical Council of South Florida and a police chaplain, explained why Raksin probably would not have been carrying valuables under the Orthodox Jewish tradition.

“The purpose of Sababth is rest, not so much physical rest but emotional rest, mental rest and a lack of tension,” he said. “Whenever you walk in the street from time to time, you’re going to tap your pocket and see if the wallet is still there. It’s a source of tension. You walk out without the wallet, you have rest.”

Raksin’s son-in-law said Sunday that Raksin had a muffin Saturday and then left to pray, something he did three times a day. He left about five minutes before the rest of the family.

Police say two men, one wearing a yellow shirt and the other wearing an orange shirt, shot him and walked away.

Weberman said that while the community is in shock, it has to believe “the light will overpower the darkness.”

“We should come out of this darkness not with despair, not with lack of hope, not with hate, but with courage and confidence that the evil will be vanquished and good will prevail,” he said.

Raksin’s death has forged tighter links in an already close-knit community. Hundreds, many of whom didn’t even know Raskin, gathered Sunday for a brief memorial. Members of the neighborhood watch escorted Raksin’s body to the airport for its return to Brooklyn.

While police addressed the news media Monday, hundreds filled a Brooklyn street to say goodbye to the father of six and grandfather of seven. The Daily News in New York reported that Raksin’s wife and children were among the mourners.

“His wife, children, family are all still in shock,” Raksin’s childhood friend, Rabbi Shea Hecht, 60, told the paper. “We can’t get over it.”

Police say they share in the community’s grief — and have stepped up patrols in the area — but need help in solving the crime.

“We’re aggressively following these leads, but we need information, and the more information we get the better,” Llevat said. “It doesn’t matter if you think it’s insignificant. If you heard something, if you know somebody, any information you have could potentially connect the dots to bring these people to justice.”

The community has offered a $50,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.

Investigators asked anyone with information to call the Miami-Dade Police Department at 305-471-2400 or Crime Stoppers, anonymously, at 305-471-8477.