On the same day hundreds gathered in front of the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn, NY for Rabbi Joseph Raksin’s funeral, the Miami-Dade police department vowed to find the people responsible for his death.
“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 morning.
While police say they are actively investigating the “heinous” shooting, which took place Saturday as Raksin walked to Bais Menachem Chabad at 1005 NE 172nd Ter., there is no indication so far that the crime was motivated by hate.
"Until we have additional information we won't know with certainty what the motive was for this crime," said Major 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, the mother of four, at a rally held outside Miami-Dade County’s Intracoastal station Sunday to ask police to not rule out hate as a motivation.
On Sunday, a swastika and Iron Cross were etched into a BMW while a Northeast-Dade Rabbi and his wife attended Raksin’s brief memorial outside Bais Menachem before his body was flown to Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Yona Lunger, a community activist and member of the Shmira Patrol — a neighborhood watch group — said “things are getting out of hand.”
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.
As for the shooting, police say it may have been a robbery gone wrong.
“It would appear initially, early observations, that it could be perhaps a robbery,” said 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 police chaplain, explained why Raksin would likely not have valuables on him 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 your 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 his father-in-law had a muffin 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 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 fostered tighter rings in an already close-knit community. Hundreds, many of whom didn’t even know him, gathered Sunday for a brief memorial. The neighborhood’s watch escorted Raksin’s body to the airport to be flown back to Brooklyn.
While police addressed the media Monday, hundreds filled a Brooklyn street to say goodbye to the father of six and grandfather of seven. The New York Daily news 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 but need assistance 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 its insignificant. If you heard something, if you know somebody, any information you have could potentially connect the dots to bring these people to justice.”