Why are synagogues in Israel being vandalized?

Torah scrolls in Jerusalem synagogue desecrated after two synagogues were vandalized in Netanya on Saturday night.

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January 30, 2019 11:35
4 minute read.
Torah scrolls strewn across the floor after the vandalism of a Jerusalem synagogue

Torah scrolls strewn across the floor after the vandalism of a Jerusalem synagogue, January 29th, 2019. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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An act of synagogue vandalism rocked Jerusalem Tuesday morning after two synagogues were similarly desecrated in Netanya less than 48 hours before.

These acts have manifested themselves in different forms, with Torah scrolls being ripped out of shrines, damaged and thrown on the floor; graffiti being sprayed on synagogue walls reading “Hail Satan”; and entire prayer rooms being flooded, all raising questions about the motives behind the spiteful acts.

The latest attack, labeled an “antisemitic pogrom,” took place on Monday night when vandals ransacked a Jerusalem synagogue, the third time in 48 hours a synagogue was vandalized.

The Siah Yisrael synagogue, located in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood of Jerusalem, was broken into and its ritual objects, including a Torah scroll and prayer books, were destroyed. Photos from the scene showed Torah scrolls strewn across a floor full of dirt and dust, and a hole was cut into the side of the ark from which the vandals extracted the scrolls.

Foreign Press Police Spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said that the act “happened during the night,” and that it looked like the perpetrators “came prepared.”

“Police are looking into whether this was a criminal act or if there were other motives,” Rosenfeld said, referring to a nationalistic background.

On Tuesday night, police arrested three men, alleged to be the perpetrators of the Jerusalem desecration, but they were released soon after.

Earlier, politicians and religious figures decried the vandalism, calling on the police to do everything in their power to find those who carried out the attack.

“I am shocked at the desecration of a synagogue in Jerusalem,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “The police must immediately find those responsible in order to bring them to justice.”

President Reuven Rivlin bemoaned the “difficult and shocking pictures that came out of the synagogue” on Twitter.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said that this was “a shocking case of the desecration of a synagogue and destruction of Torah scrolls, [and was] reminiscent of dark times of the Jewish people; we will not allow crimes like this to occur in our time.”

Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef, was “horrified” at the “terrible disgrace,” and called on authorities to “leave no stone unturned” in their search for the perpetrators.

On Saturday night, two additional synagogues were vandalized in Netanya.

The MacDonald International Shul, popular with English-speaking retirees and one of the centers of Anglo life in the coastal city, was defaced with “Hail Satan” graffiti, along with a pentagram and an upside-down cross that were spray painted on the synagogue walls. Prayer books were also burned.


David Woolf, a member of the MacDonald synagogue, said that the community was not alarmed, even though acts of vandalism occur regularly.

“We assume that it was local kids, and not anything beyond that,” Woolf said.

However, members of another synagogue that was vandalized on the same night appeared more concerned.

Unknown perpetrators climbed over the locked fence of the Kehillat Natan-Ya Reform congregation on Saturday night, destroyed plants in the garden and inserted a garden hose through a barred window of the synagogue after forcing a window open.

Rabbi Edgar Nof, the congregation’s rabbi, told The Jerusalem Post that the hose must have been on for an estimated 14 hours, flooding the synagogue and damaging the infrastructure, as well as to the furniture and prayer books.

“The water was ankle high when they discovered the vandalism,” Nof said, adding that just the extraction of the water cost NIS 14,000 alone.
A women’s group was supposed to meet in the synagogue on Sunday morning, but was met with water gushing out of the building when congregants opened the door, a member of the group said.

Michael Tucker, a committee member of the reform congregation, dismissed the idea of the vandalism being a prank by some youths.
“They climbed over a high fence to do this,” Tucker said, adding that there have been a slew of acts of minor vandalism in the past weeks. Tucker said that he believes that the incident is related to the fact that the congregation is Reform.

“Rabbis need to get together and do something about this,” he said. “On the day that the world is commemorating International Holocaust [Remembrance] Day, Jews are doing this to other Jews. It’s awful.”

Rosenfeld said that no arrests have been made in connection with the Netanya synagogues and that the investigation was ongoing.

Netanya has seen several attacks on synagogues in recent months, including Beit Israel, a Masorti (Conservative) synagogue which was vandalized on four separate occasions in May 2018, with windows smashed and other property in the building damaged.

With no arrests made and no publicized information on the nature of the perpetrators, it remains unclear whether the acts of vandalism are the result of Jewish in-fighting between secular and religious, or Orthodox and Reform Jews, or whether the vandalism is altogether different and has a nationalistic motive.

“If this would happen in the States there would be much bigger outcry,” Nof said.

The Netanya Police department said it did not want to comment on the case.

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