Synagogue attack sparks fear among Jews in Germany

By Joseph Nasr

BERLIN (Reuters) – As Jews left Yom Kippur prayers across Germany on Wednesday, they were jolted by word that an anti-Semitic gunman had attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle hours before, killing two people.

The news heightened fears of more anti-Semitic violence in a nation still scarred by the Holocaust and witnessing the rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

“It’s very scary,” said Samuel Tsarfati, a 27-year-old stage director, as he left a Berlin synagogue with fellow French national Samuel Laufer.

The pair, who live and work in the German capital, had spent the holiest day in the Jewish calendar secluded in prayer and switched off their mobile phones for 25 hours of fasting.

Other members of Germany’s 200,000-strong Jewish community expressed similar alarm over the attack. After trying to blast into the Halle synogogue, a lone suspect killed a woman outside and a man in a nearby kebab shop.

“It’s not a coincidence it happened in east Germany. The far-right AfD is very strong there,” Tsarfati said. Leaders of the AfD, which made big gains in elections in two eastern states last month, condemned Wednesday’s attack in Halle.

Attacks on Jews rose by 20% last year and were mainly carried out by right-wing extremists. Even before the Halle shooting, a heavy police presence guarded the synagogue in the trendy suburb of Prenzlauer Berg where Tsarfati and Lauferis attended prayers.

Jews and German politicians have been particularly worried by comments by Bjoern Hoecke, the AfD leader of eastern Thuringia state, that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin is a “monument of shame” and that schools should highlight German suffering in World War Two.

“What happened today shows that the AfD should not be underestimated,” said Laufer. “AfD leaders like Hoecke don’t want to see that their words encourage some people to kill.”

Hoecke was among the AfD leaders to condemn the Halle attack.

The Halle gunman broadcast anti-Semitic comments before he opened fire. Several German media outlets said he acted alone although police have not confirmed this.

The far-right AfD entered the national parliament for the first time two years ago, riding a wave of anger at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome almost 1 million migrants. The party’s rise has alarmed Jewish leaders who condemn the party’s verbal attacks against Muslim migrants.

‘BLINDED BY HATRED’

Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor and president of the Jewish Community in Munich, suggested that the AfD’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was contributing to an atmosphere of hate that encouraged political violence.

“This scary attack makes it clear how fast words can become acts of political extremism,” she said in a statement. “I’d be interested to know what that AfD has to say about such excesses, for which it had prepared the ground with its uncultured hate and incitement.”

At the gold-domed New Synagogue in Berlin’s city center about 200 people, including Muslim leaders, held a vigil, some carrying Israeli flags and others holding candles. Merkel visited the synagogue in the evening and took part in prayers.

Renate Keller, a 76-year-old attending the vigil with her husband, said the attack in Halle showed that Germany was not doing enough to fight anti-Semitism.

“It scares me that after the Holocaust some people have learned nothing from our history, which still weighs on us today,” she said. “People like the attacker have probably never met a Jew in their lives. They are just blinded by hatred.”

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, warned of the incendiary potential far-right politics.

“It shows that right-wing extremism is not only some kind of political development, but that it is highly dangerous and exactly the kind of danger that we have always warned against.”

mtpi

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Two killed in shooting at synagogue in Germany, suspects flee in hijacked car

By Stephan Schepers

HALLE, Germany (Reuters) – Two people were killed in shooting attacks on a synagogue and a kebab bistro in the eastern German city of Halle on Wednesday and one suspect was arrested, but two others fled in a hijacked a car, officials said.

The violence occurred on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the calendar in Judaism when Jews fast, seeking atonement.

The two suspects on the loose headed out on a motorway that leads to Munich in the country’s south, according to the mayor of the town of Landsberg, adjacent to Halle. Gunfire was also heard in Landsberg, Focus Online reported.

A spokeswoman for the Halle municipal government said one shooting took place in front of the synagogue on Humboldt street and its accompanying cemetery, while a second burst of gunfire targeted the kebab shop in the city in the province of Saxony.

Max Privorozki, Halle’s Jewish community chairman, described how a gunman tried to shoot his way into the city’s synagogue.

“We saw via the camera system at our synagogue that a heavily-armed perpetrator with a steel helmet and a gun tried to shoot open our doors,” he told the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper. “The man looked like he was from the special forces…But our doors held.

“We barricaded the doors from inside and waited for the police,” he said, adding that about 70-80 people were inside the Humboldt street synagogue celebrating Yom Kippur.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government voiced outrage over the attack on Yom Kippur and urged tougher action against anti-Semitic violence.

“That on the Day of Atonement a synagogue was shot at hits us in the heart,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter. “We must all act against anti-Semitism in our country.”

Anti-Semitism is a particularly sensitive issue in Germany, which during World War Two was responsible for the genocide of 6 million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. Around 200,000 Jews live today in Germany, a country of around 83 million.

EMERGENCY

Another Halle city spokesman said an emergency situation had been declared and all residents advised to stay at home. He said that emergency services and police were evacuating people from the synagogue.

Broadcasters showed images of an alleged perpetrator dressed in combat garb including a helmet.

“Our forces have detained one person,” local police said on Twitter. “Please nonetheless remain vigilant.” Earlier, police tweeted: “According to initial findings, two people were killed in Halle. There were several shots.”

The identities of the victims were not immediately known.

An unnamed eyewitness told local media the assailant at the synagogue was dressed in combat gear including a helmet, and had thrown several explosive devices into the cemetery.

Another eyewitness, Conrad Roesler, described the attack on the kebab bistro. “He had an assault rifle and a helmet and suddenly he threw what looked like a grenade. It bounced off a door frame…Suddenly he picked up the rifle and fired at the shop…I hid in the toilet,” Roesler told n-tv television.

Regional public broadcaster MDR broadcast images of a man in combat clothing firing shots along a street from behind a car.

National rail operator Deutsche Bahn said the main train station in Halle had been closed.

“This is terrible news from Halle and I hope very much that the police catch the perpetrator, or perpetrators, as quickly as possible,” federal government spokesman Steffen Seibert said, interrupting a regular government news conference.

The federal prosecutors office said it was taking over the investigation, a procedural step which indicates a possible link to terrorism under German law.

In Berlin, the state interior senator advised police to step up security at Jewish institutions in the German capital.

Despite comprehensive de-Nazification in the post-war era, fears of resurgent anti-Semitic hatred have never completely gone away, whether from fringe, far-right neo-Nazis or more recently from Muslim immigrants.

Occasional past attacks have ranged from the scrawling of Nazi swastikas on gravestones to firebombings at synagogues and even several murders. In recent years, cases of assault or verbal abuse, in some cases directed against people wearing traditional Jewish skullcaps, have raised an outcry.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Joseph Nasr, Thomas Escritt and Riham Alkousaa, Gabi Sajonz-Grimm and Michelle Martin; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Thomas Escritt and Mark Heinrich)

Shooting triggers lockdowns, then locked arms in Pittsburgh community

Mourners attend a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – The gunshots that tore through a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday first triggered lockdowns in houses of worship across the city. Then they brought forth an outpouring of unity and support.

Following the deadliest attack ever on the Jewish community in the United States, residents rushed to provide comfort, give blood, organize vigils and bring therapy dogs to a Jewish community center.

Flowers and candles are placed outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday's shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

Flowers and candles are placed outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday’s shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

The Tree of Life synagogue, where 11 people were killed by a gunman who burst into a morning service, is home to three congregations in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh’s tight-knit Jewish community.

Word of Saturday’s shooting spread quickly through the community. For some, the news arrived with text messages and phone calls. In corners of the community where cellphones were turned off during the Sabbath, it arrived nearly as quickly by word of mouth.

That was the case at the nearby Chabad congregation, where the service continued but with someone monitoring the door during what is traditionally an open event. One congregant, a chaplain, walked out to pray.

“Community is the greatest asset,” said Rabbi Yisroel Altein of Chabad. “Everybody being here for each other and looking to dispel the dark with the light.”

Erika Strassburger, who represents Tree of Life’s district on Pittsburgh’s City Council, said she was at a political gathering of about 30 people when she heard the news. The group put its plans to canvas the neighborhood for signatures on hold.

Mourners fill a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Mourners fill a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

INCLUSIVITY AND ‘PITTSBURGH LEFT’

Squirrel Hill is known for inclusivity, the late television personality Fred Rogers who attended a church there, and for friendliness, residents said. It is a place where drivers use a “Pittsburgh Left,” yielding to oncoming traffic wanting to turn.

After the shooting, turnout at services across the city swelled. As soon as the Sabbath ended, members of Orthodox congregations and others who had been unable to attend the earlier vigil gathered. They stood outside of Tree of Life, or L’Simcha, and read psalms.

The following day, children attended traditional Sunday school classes at other congregations under the watch of neighborhood police. About 100 clergy, lay leaders and volunteers gathered at the Jewish Community Center to discuss how to move forward and make arrangements for many funerals at the same time. In Judaism, the dead traditionally need to be buried within 24 hours, so other congregations came forward to offer space.

Therapy dogs from Pittsburgh and Youngstown arrive at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh to give comfort to volunteers, families, community members and employees following Saturday's shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jessica Resnick-Ault

Therapy dogs from Pittsburgh and Youngstown arrive at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh to give comfort to volunteers, families, community members and employees following Saturday’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jessica Resnick-Ault

After the meeting wrapped up, volunteers brought over a dozen therapy dogs to help console those in pain.

Carnegie Mellon University professor Bill Scherlis, who lives just a few blocks from the synagogue and has been to events there, went to a candlelight vigil nearby on Saturday night that was arranged by high school students and attended by hundreds of people.

When word of the shooting spread, Scherlis said, the streets became “quite suddenly” full of neighbors who came out to stand together arm in arm.

“The spirit is so strongly felt,” he said. “This community response is in sharp contrast to the horror of the events.”

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Writing by Chris Prentice; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Man charged with Pittsburgh synagogue massacre due in court

FILE PHOTO: Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – The man charged with shooting 11 worshipers to death at a Pittsburgh synagogue, marking the deadliest ever attack on America’s Jewish community, was due to make his first court appearance on Monday before a federal judge.

Robert Bowers, 46, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic material online, has been charged with 29 criminal counts, including the violation of U.S. civil rights laws in what federal prosecutors say was a hate crime.

Several of the charges can be punishable by the death penalty.

Bowers is accused of storming into the Tree of Life temple in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh’s close-knit Jewish community, yelling “All Jews must die” as he opened fire on members of three congregations holding Sabbath prayer services there on Saturday morning.

In addition to the 11 mostly elderly worshipers who were killed, six people, including four police officers who confronted the gunman, were wounded before the suspect surrendered. Two of the surviving victims remained hospitalized in critical condition.

“The fact that this attack took place during a worship service makes it even more heinous,” U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said on Sunday at a news conference.

Bowers’ initial appearance before a judge was scheduled for Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Brady said.

About 2,500 people attended an interfaith memorial service for the victims that was held late on Sunday on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

The dead included two brothers in their 50s, David and Cecil Rosenthal, a married couple in their 80s, Sylvan and Bernice Simon, and 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the oldest of the victims.

Another was Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, a family physician who initially escaped the attack only to be killed when he returned to render aid to the wounded, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed column by Pittsburgh carpet salesman Lou Weiss, who knew five of the victims personally.

The killings rocked the Squirrel Hill community, an enclave that encompasses several synagogues and Jewish religious schools, and sparked security alerts at places of worship across the country.

The massacre also took on political overtones as some complained that the confrontational, nationalistic rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump has encouraged right-wing extremists and fed a surge in activity by hate groups.

Trump, who branded Saturday’s shooting an act of pure evil and called on Americans to rise above hatred, was already facing similar criticism after pipe bombs were mailed last week to some of his most prominent political adversaries. The targets, mostly Democrats, included former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Cesar Sayoc, 56, a strip club DJ and part-time pizza delivery man whose van was pasted with pro-Trump images and slogans disparaging the political left, was arrested in the pipe bomb case on Friday and faced his first court appearance on Monday in Florida.

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Florida man sentenced to 25 years for attempt to blow up synagogue

(Reuters) – A Florida man was sentenced by a U.S. judge on Tuesday to 25 years in prison for trying to blow up a synagogue in the state during a Jewish holiday last year, court officials said.

James Medina, 41, will first be treated at a U.S. prison medical facility for a brain cyst and mental illness before being moved into the general prison population, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola in Miami ruled.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation began watching Medina, who had converted to Islam, after he began expressing anti-Semitic views and a wish to attack a synagogue. They launched an investigation in late March 2016, court documents showed

Medina, who faced up to life in prison, had pleaded guilty in August 2017 to charges of an attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and an attempted religious hate crime, court documents showed.

“This is a very, very serious offense,” Scola was quoted as saying in court by the Miami Herald.

Medina’s federal public defender, Hector Dopico, declined to comment when reached by Reuters on Tuesday afternoon.

Medina met with an FBI-affiliated confidential informant and explained his plan to attack a synagogue in Aventura, Florida, near Miami, the documents showed.

“Medina wanted to witness the explosion, hearing and feeling the blast from (a) nearby car,” the informant cited Medina as saying, according to the documents.

Asked why he wanted to do it, Medina said he wanted to kill Jews, adding: “It’s my call of duty.”

Medina was supplied with what he thought was an explosive device by federal law enforcement. The device was inert and posed no danger to the public, federal law enforcement said in court filings.

He was taken into custody as he approached the synagogue with the inert device and later admitted to his crimes, they said. No one was hurt.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; editing by Bernadette Baum and Diane Craft)

New York congregation owns oldest U.S. synagogue, court rules

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that a New York Jewish congregation is the rightful owner of the nation’s oldest synagogue, in Rhode Island, along with a set of bells worth millions.

The decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston marks the latest turn in a long-running legal battle that began when members of the Touro Synagogue in Newport tried to sell a set of ritual bells, called rimonim, worth some $7.4 million.

New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel attempted to block the deal, citing an 18th century agreement that named it a trustee.

A lower court last year placed ownership of the synagogue with the Rhode Island congregation that worships there, Newport’s Congregation Jeshuat Israel. The appeals court reversed that decision citing previous agreements.

“We hold that the only reasonable conclusions to be drawn from them are that CSI (Congregation Shearith Israel) owns both the rimonim and the real property,” the ruling said.

Louis Solomon, an attorney for Shearith Israel, said in a statement he was gratified by the ruling.

“We will continue in our historic role and look forward to putting this unfortunate litigation behind us,” he said.

Gary Naftalis, a lawyer for the Rhode Island congregation, said he was disappointed by the ruling and was exploring legal options.

The historic building was consecrated in 1763, when the town had one of the largest Jewish populations in the American colonies, including many who had fled the Spanish Inquisition. It was vacated in 1776 when most of the city’s Jewish population fled at the start of the Revolutionary War.

Members of the synagogue at that time shipped a pair of valuable silver bells used in rituals to the New York synagogue, and asked its leaders to act as trustees for the vacant temple. Worshippers returned by the 1870s and the New York group’s influence waned.

Shearith sued Newport’s Congregation Jeshuat Israel when it learned the Rhode Island group had reached a deal to sell the bells to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The Touro congregation had planned to use the funds to create a reserve to pay for maintenance of the building, after its finances were hard hit by the 2008 credit crisis.

The New York congregation also claimed ownership of the bells and charged that the Newport group was violating Jewish tradition by selling ritual objects.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry)

Chicago man faces hate crime charge in synagogue vandalism

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A Chicago man has been arrested and charged with a felony hate crime for allegedly smashing the window of a city synagogue and putting swastika stickers on its front door, police said on Wednesday.

Stuart Wright, 31, was arrested by the Chicago Police Department on Tuesday. He has been charged with one felony count of hate crime to a church or synagogue and one felony count of criminal damage.

Wright is scheduled to appear in a Chicago bond court on Thursday, police said in a statement.

Police said Wright smashed the large front window of the Chicago Loop Synagogue early on Saturday and affixed swastika stickers to the building’s front doors.

The attack, which was captured on surveillance video, was condemned by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.

There have been a number of hate and bias incidents reported recently in the United States. In January, a fire gutted a Texas mosque, with federal law enforcement officials ruling it arson.

On Sunday, a story about subway riders in New York working together to clean up neo-Nazi graffiti went viral on social media.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney#)

Man Shouts Death Threats At Miami Beach Jews

A man has been arrested on charges of assault and stalking after yelling death threats to members of a Miami Beach synagogue.

Diego Chaar accosted two members of the Ohev Shalom Congregation shouting “Allahu Akbar” and then threatened to cut off the heads of the synagogue’s members.

“That’s called assault. Threatening to kill,” said Rabbi Phineas Webberman. “His attitude was that this is his religious responsibility of carrying out killing infidels.”

The synagogue’s members rushed inside and called 911.

Charr denied saying anything and has been released on bond.

“It’s terrible,” Joe McCormack, a retired officer and longtime friend of Rabbi Webberman, told CBS Miami.  “How would you feel if I said ‘I’ll cut your head off you Jew.’ It shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be allowed.”

The synagogue has hired extra security in the wake of the incident.

Ancient Synagogue Discovered In Israel

An ancient synagogue has been discovered in Magdala, Israel that archaeologists say may be a major part of Biblical history.

They believe that Jesus taught at the synagogue.

The discovery in Magdala is the latest in a series of ancient finds.  The city is just five miles from the Biblical city of Capernaum.  A first century A.D. boat, an ancient harbor and other Biblical times buildings have been found in the city.

“This stone is really unique, we’ve never excavated anything like it,” Dino Gorni of the Israeli Antiquities Authority said. “It took me three days to believe what I was seeing—that we are standing in a synagogue from the time that the temple in Jerusalem was functioning.”

Juan Solana of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, says it’s impossible to believe Jesus did not go to that synagogue at some point.

“From the Jewish point of view, the position is clear,” Solana told WorldNetDaily. “It’s a first century synagogue, beautifully decorated, with pieces of art and an altar such has never been found in any other synagogue from that time. Never, ever.”

“From the Christian point of view, we cannot doubt that Jesus would have been there sometime,” he said. “The first Christian communities used to gather in the synagogues. They were observant Jews. So it’s clear that the first generation of Christians used to gather there.”

Brandenburg Gets First Synagogue Since 1938

A former church is being transformed into the first synagogue in the German state of Brandenburg since 1938.

The former “castle church” in Cottbus, Germany was handed from Christian leader Ulrike Menzel to the Jewish Association of the State of Brandenburg.  The facility will be renovated and then dedicated for use on January 27, 2015, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Menzel said during the transfer event that he was pleased to see the house of worship return to its intended use.  The church that had met in the building had disbanded and the facility was used for social events during the last few years.

The synagogue in Cottbus was destroyed on Kristallnacht when Germans nationwide took Jewish property and synagogues.  The site of that former synagogue in Cottbus is now the location of a department store.

The Jewish community formally reestablished in the city in 1998 and lists 350 members who are all former Soviet Union residents that fled for freedom to worship.