'Complete Destruction': Tel Aviv Synagogue Slated for Demolition Looted

Thieves circumvent 24-hour-security to steal expensive sacred objects from the Persian synagogue in Tel Aviv's southern Abu Kabir neighborhood

Ran Shimoni
Ran Shimoni
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The Persian synagogue on Wednesday.
The Persian synagogue on Wednesday.Credit: Residents of Abu Kabir
Ran Shimoni
Ran Shimoni

Torah scrolls and other religious objects worth hundreds of thousands of shekels were stolen from a Tel Aviv synagogue overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday, despite the presence of two security guards hired by the municipality.

The synagogue, built 64 years ago for Persian Jews, and the neighborhood of Abu Kabir at large, are slated for demolition by Tel Aviv municipality so that a park can be constructed on the land.

Ahead of the synagogue’s demolition, the municipality dispatched workers to clear the building on Monday, sparking an administrative petition from Abu Kabir's residents and congregants of the synagogue to halt the work. The court issued a temporary restraining order to freeze the clear-out of the building, giving the municipality 72 hours to respond.

In the interim, the municipality hired a security firm to guard the contents of the synagogue 24 hours a day, but the building was looted on Tuesday overnight. The municipality says it filed a complaint with the police, adding that the guards themselves will be investigated.

“It’s shocking, complete destruction. My grandfather’s Torah was there, other Torahs that were donated to us,” said Dor Davidian, whose great-grandfather was one of the founders of the congregation. “When I was a soldier and my grandfather passed away, I contributed money from my own pay to write a letter in that scroll,” he said, referring to a letter of biblical text handwritten by a scribe. “And now it’s disappeared. It’s impossible to describe this loss in words.”

The Persian synagogue on Wednesday.Credit: Residents of Abu Kabir.

Davidian and other residents said they knew that buildings in the neighborhood were being evacuated, but they said they had not been aware that the synagogue was slated for demolition. “The synagogue serves the people of the Persian community in the area,” Davidian said. “There’s a long history and today too, people pray here on weekends, including my father and uncle.”

He called on the municipality to preserve the building. “There is going to be a park here. People will come here from all over the country. Why not take the initiative and preserve a building that will show respect for the population that has been in this neighborhood all these years?” he asked.

Following six years of litigation, the Tel Aviv District Court ordered the demolition of the neighborhood's Persian synagogue in May after it determined that the land is owned by the Tel Aviv municipality. Similar to other rulings in Abu Kabir, the court rejected ownership claims by Shimon Golan, who ran the synagogue, and ordered him to vacate the site and other structures on the municipality's land.

Officials from Tel Aviv city hall refuted residents’ claims that the synagogue has been serving the needs of the Persian community in the south Tel Aviv area, arguing that the cultural importance of the synagogue only surfaced after May’s court order to demolish it.

In court, Shimon Golan noted that the synagogue was not used during the week by the diminished Persian community in the area, but was active on the Sabbath, holidays and memorial services.

Tel Aviv city councilwoman Shula Keshet, who has provided support to the neighborhood’s residents on the issue, called the plans to demolish the building an attempt to “erase memory and erase history.” She added that if the building had been elsewhere in the city, the municipality would've made greater efforts to safeguard the building's heritage.

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