Death Threats Sent to Reform Jewish Leaders at Vandalized Synagogue in Central Israel

Hate graffiti sprayed on walls of Kehilat Ra'anan allude to controversy over Western Wall egalitarian prayer space deal.

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The names of prominent Reform Jewish figures are written next to the knife inscribed with words from an ancient text that refers to the Jewish laws pertaining murder.
The names of prominent Reform Jewish figures are written next to the knife inscribed with words from an ancient text that refers to the Jewish laws pertaining murder.Credit: Yossi Cohen

Members of the Reform congregation of Ra’anana, a suburb north of Tel Aviv, woke up on Thursday morning to find hateful graffiti sprayed on the walls of their synagogue and death threats issued to leaders of their movement.

On an outdoor ledge, covered by a knife, envelopes were discovered bearing the names of three prominent figures: Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the congregational arm of the movement in North America; Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the movement in Israel; and Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall, the multi-denominational feminist prayer group, who also heads the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the movement in Israel.

Written in red on the knife were words from an ancient text that refers to the Jewish laws pertaining to murder. On a nearby wall, spray-painted in large red letters, was the following verse from a Midrash: “The Divine spirit never moves from the Western Wall.”

It appears to be a reference to the ongoing controversy over the yet-to-be-implemented government decision to build a new space at the Western Wall where Reform and Conservative Jews can hold mixed prayer services. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who deem the Reform and Conservative movement illegitimate, fiercely oppose this decision.

Kehilat Ra'anan, the vandalized Reform synagogue in Ra'anana, Israel, November 24, 2016.Credit: Yossi Cohen

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "utterly condemned" the vandalism, adding that "such actions have no place in our free society." Education Minister Naftali Bennett also condemned the vandalism. “There are differences of opinion over substantial issues – including Jewish life...but we cannot allow disagreements deteriorate to abusive discourse and incitement, which could lead to the physical harming of a person because of his beliefs."

This is the fifth time that Kehilat Ra’anan has been vandalized. It is the first time, though, that the perpetrators have made any reference to the Western Wall controversy or that death threats have been issued.

“The death threats and vandalism to the synagogue are a direct consequence of the unprecedented incitement against Reform Judaism this past year, which is being led by ultra-Orthodox rabbis and politicians,” said Kariv, while on a visit to the synagogue. “We hope this serves as a wake-up call to them. They also need to know that we will not be scared away and will continue to fight for our rights at the Western Wall.”

Also sprayed onto the wall of the synagogue was a specific verse number from the Book of Obadiah. It is a verse that encourages violence against those deemed heretics.

Kehilat Ra'anan, the vandalized synagogue in Ra'anana Israel, November 24, 2016. Written on the knife are words from an ancient text that refers to the Jewish laws pertaining to murder.Credit: Yossi Cohen

The vandalism was first discovered by Yossi Cohen, director of the congregation. “I was horrified to see that once again progressive Judaism and our particular congregation have been targeted,” he recounted.

Cohen noted that the congregation operates three pre-schools on its premises. “My first concern was to make sure no damage had been caused to these facilities, even though I’m not quite sure how to explain to the children when they arrive later this morning what happened.”

Although this was not the first time his congregation was targeted, Cohen said that the vandalism he discovered this morning “crossed all lines.”

“I was shaken up entirely when I saw that knife,” he said, “and I am still trembling.”

The Jewish Federations of North America, an American Jewish umbrella organization, said it is "horrified by and wholeheartedly condemns the recent acts of vandalism."

"An act of this kind is an attack on the entire Jewish People and an assault on our basic values," JFNA said.

Thanking Netanyahu for his condemnation, the organization added that it trusts that Israeli leaders "will take meaningful steps to fulfill the Government of Israel’s commitment to making Israel, including the Western Wall, a safe and welcoming place for all Jews, and Israeli citizens."

Kehilat Ra’anan was founded 18 years ago but recently moved to a new building.

The congregation has 80 member families, though many more take advantage of its pre-school and other community programs.

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