It is shocking and disturbing and reminiscent of a real-life nightmare that Jews have endured for centuries. It never stops. The targeting of Jews in any number of countries they find themselves in. Sometimes it is subtle and sometimes not.
On January 30, another synagogue was broken into and desecrated. Photos show ripped and shredded sacred Torahs on the ground, the locked ark was forced open by sawing a hole on its side, and the photos show destroyed prayer books strewn all over the ransacked synagogue.
It is all the same script. The same hatred that saw so many synagogues ransacked in pogroms – most notably in czarist Russia – to synagogues burned to the ground in Nazi Germany. It is the same hatred that still leads to toppled and defaced tombstones in Jewish cemeteries around the world.
The script for the January 30 attack may look the same and we may wish it was the same because then we could understand it. The attack on the synagogue I am referring to did not happen in some country one might expect. Most regrettably, this attack happened in the one country you would think a hate crime targeting Jews would never happen.
The name of the ransacked synagogue is Siah Yisrael. It is located in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people. More precisely, and more personally, Siah Yisrael is in my daughter’s family’s neighbourhood of Kiryat Yovel.
When I arrived here in Jerusalem in February for my annual visit, I heard people talking about the badly damaged synagogue – and the plot certainly thickens when you find out more.
Siah Yisrael has many French-speaking congregants who recently came from France. Imagine, they left France to come to Israel to get away from the very thing that happened to their synagogue in Jerusalem. It truly is unimaginable how persecuted and let down those French Jews must feel.
Now, super-sophisticated anti-Semites would have loved to have ransacked their synagogue in Jerusalem to send a message to Jews who left France that hatred for them will follow everywhere they go, including Israel. And while that may be the result, it is hard to imagine the thinking behind the attack was that sophisticated.
As I write, 10 days after the attack, authorities are not putting any kind of premise forward and there is very little information being made available. But, there are theories in the neighbourhood, and in the media, about who did this and why. The underbelly of the speculation seems to fall on tension between secular and the growing number of religious people in the neighbourhood. It is something no one wants to talk about.
As troubling as the invasion of the Siah Yisrael is, it takes no time to realize it is not the only synagogue in Israel to be hit in the middle of the night.
Just days before the attack in Jerusalem two synagogues were targeted in Netanya. The MacDonald International Shul, an Orthodox shul with English-speaking congregants, mostly American and British, was hit by perpetrators who left ugly graffiti with crosses and “Hail Satan” written on the walls.
The Reform synagogue Natan Ya was flooded that same night when perpetrators broke a window and forced a running garden hose in leaving half a foot of water throughout. Last May, also in Netanya, Beit Israel, a Conservative synagogue was vandalized on four separate occasions.
There may be a line of thinking that connects the attacks in the Conservative and Reform synagogues in Netanya. It takes neither a rocket scientist nor a Talmudic scholar to know Reform and Conservative Judaism is not appreciated in religious circles in Israel. As for the Orthodox congregation in Netanya, one could speculate the perpetrators thought a shul called the MacDonald International Shul, commonly referred to as “MacDonald’s,” did not fit the mould of what they expect a shul to be.
As for the French shul in Jerusalem, while theories abound as to who is responsible and why, it remains hard to think secular Jews did this to protest the arrival of religious newcomers coming to their neighbourhood, just as it is so hard to think religious Jews would hurt Reform and Conservative Jews for not being observant enough.
Every visit to Israel brings eye-openers – including those you never want to see.