CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — An Oct. 28 after-hours shooting outside of a newly-opened bar in Cleveland Heights brought concerned neighbors to City Council on Monday.
These included members of the Zemach Zedek Synagogue, located in a storefront next to The Cornerstone Bar and Grill at 1918 Lee Road, former home to Mekong River restaurant, then the Lotus Thai House.
Zemach Zedek President Michael Hoen, who remembers when it was Miether’s Ice Cream shop, recounted how the shooting occurred 18 hours after a gunman walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 members there.
“This came as a shock upon a shock for us,” Hoen told council. “This was not a hate crime, but as president of the synagogue, I have concerns for the safety of our congregants.”
As Councilman Jason Stein pointed out last week, many members of the Jewish community were among the last to hear about the Pittsburgh shooting when it happened because they do not use electronics on their sabbath.
Hoen learned of that tragedy only when a Jewish Federation security officer walked into the synagogue later that afternoon (Oct. 27) and told them what happened.
He noted that the back door to the synagogue is located about 25 feet from the bar, which had opened less than two months before.
Police Chief Annette Mecklenburg said Monday that the victim, a man believed to have been unarmed at the time of the shooting outside the bar shortly before 3:30 a.m. on Oct. 28, was still hospitalized in serious condition, with at least one gunshot wound to his thigh.
A suspect, identified as Nelson Wesley, 42, of Cleveland Heights, remained in jail on $100,000 bond for a felonious assault charge.
There is also a separate children’s room at the Lee Road synagogue accessed from a back door.
“It’s hard to overstate how many children are running around there,” said Harvey Kugelman. “As it is, we generally have to keep shooing them away from Zagara’s traffic (from the grocery store across Redwood Road).”
In the aftermath of The Cornerstone shooting, Kugelman also questioned why the synagogue had not received advance notice from the state about a liquor permit application or transfer, generally done for religious institutions within a 500-foot radius.
Stein commended congregants and neighbors for their actions and told them to call police whenever there’s a problem, since documentation helps if the city files a protest with the state liquor control board over a bar, or declares it a local public nuisance.
Vice Mayor Melissa Yasinow, whose great-great-grandfather was a founder of Zemach Zedek, said she was touched by those who spoke, including Bill Bruml, who worships a few blocks away.
Bruml gave a heartfelt thanks to the city after arriving at Beth El for worship on Nov. 3 and seeing a police cruiser there.
“The federal level response has been more like, ‘you’re on your own, guys,'” Bruml said.
Councilwoman Cheryl Stephens said that no matter how the “pendulum swings, in this town you should always be protected — and that includes our colleagues, friends, neighbors and loved ones who are of the Jewish faith.”
Many have ties to Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, where the massacre took place, including Yasinow, whose cousin was married in the Tree of Life synagogue.
“It is so deeply raw and terrifying to know that our family celebrated so much in a place that is now a crime scene,” Yasinow said.
With Mayor Carol Roe absent, Yasinow concluded the meeting by reading the names of the 11 victims at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Stein noted earlier that he first learned of the shootings after an unidentified man drove up to a temple across the street on the afternoon of Oct. 27 and handed the congregants there a bouquet of flowers, offering his condolences.
In other business, Stephens said she will soon be stepping down midway through her third term to serve on Cuyahoga County Council, after winning the Democratic primary in May and running unopposed in the general election on Tuesday (Nov. 6).
This means that council will be appointing her interim successor, with a timeline still being finalized.
“I will continue to represent this community, but I am encouraging council to start seriously considering (the new) appointment,” Stephens said.
She recommended someone with experience in finance, and “municipal finance would be even better.”
And because of the all “at-large” representation on council, Stephens urged her colleagues to select “someone who knows this community in its entirety.”
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