By now we have a clearer sense of what happened: An anti-Semitic gunman attempted to carry out a massacre at a synagogue. The 80 or so worshippers saw on security cameras that they were under attack and barricaded themselves in. Failing at his attempts to get through the door, the assailant killed a woman and man in his path and injured others. Particularly horrifying, copying the killer in the New Zealand massacre, the entire attack was livestreamed by the gunman so he could broadcast to others what was taking place in real time.
Here’s what’s been less widely reported: Halle is a small community of about 500 Jews, many of whom emigrated from the former Soviet Union. To inject some youthful energy into the holiday services, Halle had invited a group from Base Berlin, a project of UJA’s partner Hillel International, to join their congregation. There were a number of Americans among the worshippers.
Just a few years ago, Halle’s Jewish community approached our largest overseas partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel, asking for security assistance. The Jewish Agency provided resources from a security fund established with support from federations after the attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, in 2012. It was the synagogue’s heavy wooden door and recently upgraded electronic security system that thwarted the gunman.
In other words, a far worse tragedy was averted because a community was protected, with thanks to the support of Jews from around the world.
Being with college students on Yom Kippur, I reflected on my own time at Columbia College many years ago. Back then the idea that Jewish places of worship could be attacked seemed to belong to another era. Today, it’s a different, darker world for young people, who have the tragedies of multiple synagogue attacks both in the United States and Europe imprinted on them.
But the world is different in positive ways, too. In the very country that perpetrated the worst state-sponsored crimes against Jews in modern history, Chancellor Angela Merkel attended Neilah services Wednesday evening at a synagogue in Berlin, vowing “zero tolerance” for hate and anti-Semitism in Germany.
In New York, the police were a forceful and reassuring presence at synagogues across our community. And while, thankfully, no violence was reported in New York, a memorial to the Holocaust in Westchester was desecrated on the eve of Yom Kippur.
It’s because of the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in our own community that UJA recently announced a major investment to enhance the security infrastructure for Jewish institutions in New York. Beyond security, we’ll continue to work to reverse the current surge, continuing to speak out against the growing danger and building broad coalitions to help stem the tide of intolerance and hatred.
As we move from the sanctity of Yom Kippur to the celebration of Sukkot, I’m reminded of the prayer asking God to “Spread over us your sukkah (canopy) of peace … Remove the adversary from before and behind us. Shelter us in the shadow of Your wings … Guard our going out and our coming in, for life and peace, now and always.”
While we pray to God for happiness and peace, I’m reminded, too, that we’re responsible for building our own sukkahs. We put them in the ground; we give them form; we make them beautiful. We imbue these temporary, fragile structures with our own strength, resilience, and joy.
And in the same way, please God, we’ll spread a sukkah of peace for all.
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach