The website was briefly taken over by an entity wanting to "stop Israeli aggression."
Congregants of Beth Am Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Penn Valley, learned early Friday morning that synagogue's website had been hacked.
“Please be aware that our website has been hacked by a Palestinian group and that they have deleted all of our contact,” Marc Slovak, a member of the synagogue who helps run the site, wrote in a group email. “I've removed their message and am in consultations with our web host to restore the site.”
The hacking took viewers to a black page with a picture of a boy who some assumed was Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old Palestinian who Israeli authorities say was killed by young Jewish extremists. Wording on the page said something to the effect: "All people have a homeland to live in; stop Israeli violence," according to Raymond Solomon, the synagogue’s president.
The page also shared a link to a Facebook page for a group called the Moroccan Islamic Union-Mail. According to several cyber security websites, the group is a well-known online hacker group that has targeted sites, around the world, including official government sites, from Zambia to Saudi Arabia to Italy.
Solomon said the note that it was the work of a Palestinian group was premature and that further investigation was needed before drawing any final conclusions.
“We don’t know who it was — whether it was a group or an individual. It could have been one lone Jew or Palestinian or Moroccan,” Solomon said.
The synagogue has made the site inaccessible for now, he said, adding that “to the best of our knowledge,” no personal data about congregants that is stored on the site was breached.
Solomon also noted that he had notified the local Anti-Defamation League and Lower Merion Police.
Congregation Beth Am Israel “did the right thing” by contacting the ADL and law enforcement so quickly, said Josh Cohen, associate regional director of the ADL in Pennsylvania. “We’re very proud of the congregation for taking the incident seriously.”
The Lower Merion police did not immediately respond to an inquiry from the Jewish Exponent.
The hacking came the day that the synagogue, which is involved in many interfaith and peace-related activities, was set to host Middle Eastern students from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey for a special interfaith Kabbalat Shabbat program and Friday night dinner. The program is run in conjunction with the Dialogue Institute at Temple University and the International Center for Contemporary Education.
"We're committed to dialogue because we think that it's really crucial that people get to know one another person-to-person and one individual at a time to lead to deeper and hopefully more humane understandings of who we are," said the congregation's spiritual leader, Rabbi David Ackerman, who added that he wasn't "overly concerned" by the hacking incident. "We like dialogue, we think that it's an important part of who we are."
Exponent Executive Editor Lisa Hostein contributed to this report.