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OPINION: Being in shul felt like being at the scene of the crime

The damaged door of a synagogue in Halle, Germany October 10, 2019.

I’m not religious, but I still went to synagogue yesterday for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. This I did for two reasons: to keep my dad company (my father who art in Streatham, not my father who art in heaven) and because I like the festival’s self-improvement vibe – spending one day a year thinking about the bad things you’ve done and trying to do better.

I was counting my sins while studiously not checking my phone when the rabbi stopped his sermon to softly mention there had just been a deadly shooting at a synagogue in the German city of Halle.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a once-a-year Jew-ish Jew or Abraham himself, being told about a terror attack on a synagogue while you’re in synagogue triggers the same thoughts and inflicts the same wounds: Jews shot for being Jews; it happened to be there; it could have been here. It’s like being at the scene of the crime.

The shootings were shocking but not surprising. There has been a chilling rise in attacks on Jews in cities like Copenhagen, Brussels, Toulouse and particularly Paris, where Jewish people and property are now casual targets for blind hate.

A recent EU poll of 16,000 European Jews found close to 40 per cent have considered fleeing the country of their birth.

Mercifully, British Jews don’t contend with the same level of menace, despite figures for the first six months of 2019 showing a record 892 reported antisemitic incidents, fuelled mainly by the increase in online hate.

The British government has increased its annual financial commitment to Jewish security to £14m in response to the previous record number of antisemitic incidents in 2018. This funds equipment and staffing costs to protect schools and community centres, where security gates and guards, CCTV cameras, barbed wire fences, even blast doors are now commonplace.

But money isn’t enough. The government should also give police greater powers to deal with racially motivated violence and courts greater freedom to wield maximum penalties to deter the next delinquent intent on chucking a brick through a synagogue window, or worse. That would send a clear message that minorities do not stand alone.

The Halle attack is another grievous lesson in how racism rapidly moves from the web to the real world. Like the Christchurch mosque killer, the terrorist wore a webcam to live-stream the carnage and was no doubt inspired by conspiracy sites and blogs.

It’s also a painful reminder of the ever-present threat from the far right at a time when British Jews have been focused on the antisemitism of the far left.

No matter how dire the statistics, British Jews define themselves not by antisemitism but the contribution they make to British life. Despite this self-confidence, Halle will have dealt another serious blow to their sense of security.

First published by The Independent.

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About Me

Newspaper editor and publisher with 30-years’ experience at national and local titles in the UK and USA including the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Jewish Advocate. Editor of Jewish News (Free Weekly Newspaper of the Year 2021/22) since 2009. Columnist for The Times, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, Independent and others.


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