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Temple Israel intruder granted accelerated rehabilitation

By Judie Jacobson

One of two men who terrorized a group of Jewish women attending a luncheon at a Westport synagogue last spring has been granted accelerated rehabilitation (AR) by a Superior Court judge in Norwalk.

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, Daniel Fischer, 25, of New Haven received accelerated rehabilitation for 18 months, including 25 hours of community service, by Judge William Wentzel. Fischer, who was charged with criminal trespass first-degree and breach of peace second-degree, was also ordered to stay away from Temple Israel, where the incident took place, and to refrain from contacting anyone associated with the synagogue. All charges against him will be dropped upon his successful completion of the program.

Fischer’s co-defendant Gregory Williams, 25, also of New Haven, was not eligible for AR, owing to a previous record. He has pleaded not guilty to the same charges and will appear in court on Oct. 15.

At Fischer’s court hearing, Bruce Koffsky, an attorney representing Temple Israel, submitted a letter from Temple Israel in support of Fischer’s AR request.

The letter outlined the events that unfolded on May 12 when the Westchester/Connecticut chapter of the Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) was hosting a luncheon for close to 100 women at Temple Israel in Westport. The women were set to hear from active-duty soldiers, as well as former Brigadier General Gila Klifi-Amir, who served as an advisor on women’s affairs to the IDF chief of staff and is now national director and CEO of FIDF, when all hell broke loose.

“All of a sudden, you heard screaming,” recalled Robin Colin-Greene, an attorney who lives in Westport, who was preparing to introduce Klifi-Amir. “It sounded like there were a lot of people fighting right outside the door. I only heard ‘Palestinians’ and couldn’t understand what they were saying. Somebody thought she heard ‘fatwa.’”

Many attendees later reported hearing loud banging on the door. Several women could see a large man through a window in the door, with something draped over his arm. “Somebody yelled, ‘They have a gun,’” Colin-Greene says. Panic ensued. “It was sheer pandemonium. In seconds, people had run out the far door of the room, screaming.”

According to Westport and Weston police, Fischer and Williams entered the building and asked to read a statement at the luncheon. When told to leave, the pair refused, proceeding up a staircase to the social hall. They were physically restrained by staff members. The synagogue building, which houses a nursery school, as well as the neighboring Coleytown elementary and middle schools and Unitarian Church preschool, were all placed into lockdown.

“Mr. Fischer should be made to understand that his ‘political’ stunt caused panic and fear for both Temple Israel’s staff and guests and has caused Temple Israel to increase its security precautions – and as a result, its expenses. This was not a victimless crime,” read the Temple Israel letter submitted at Fischer’s hearing.

“We say all the above with the understanding that Daniel Fischer has no criminal record, appears to be eligible for the AR Program and has been charged with misdemeanor offenses,” the letter continued. “That being the case, Temple Israel does not object to the granting of the AR Program for Mr. Fischer provided he engage in substantial community service where he can put his passionate support for the less fortunate to better use.”

In the letter, the synagogue requested that Fischer be barred from going on Temple Israel property, contacting synagogue staff or congregants, and participating in Temple Israel activities.

Following the proceeding, Eugene Riccio, the attorney for Fischer and Williams, said, “I appreciate the court’s granting of AR and appreciate the gracious position from the rabbi and synagogue members.”

Fischer grew up in the Fairfield Jewish community before attending Wesleyan University and University of Haifa. At the time of his arrest, he was a student at Southern Connecticut State University. Williams graduated from the Yale Divinity School in May. He was scheduled to continue his studies this fall at Duke Divinity School.

In the days following the May 12 incident, Fischer posted on his Facebook page his and Williams’ version of the Temple Israel event: “2 Jewish peaceful protestors were assaulted and arrested last week as they interrupted a Connecticut synagogue’s fundraiser for the genocidal Israeli army,” read the statement.

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