Leaders of the Reform congregation of Netanya filed a complaint with police on Tuesday after discovering that their synagogue had been vandalized, with prayer shawls, yarmulkes and prayer books thrown on the floor and a window torn out of the bathroom.
The break-in is suspected to have taken place sometime around Tisha B’Av, the annual fast that commemorates the destruction of the ancient temples and that began this year on Saturday night. The synagogue was not in use on that day.
The damage was discovered when a member of the congregation entered the synagogue on Monday evening to set up for an event. “What she found was a huge mess,” said Lior Ben-Tsur, a member of the board of Natan Ya, one of the oldest Reform congregations in Israel.
Several days earlier, an attempted break-in was also reported at the Conservative congregation in this coastal city. After failing to break through the door of the Bet Israel synagogue, the perpetrator broke one of the windows of the building. No other damage was reported.
It is not clear if the two crimes are related. “It raises concerns, however, that this might be part of a trend,” said Yair Lootsteen, chairman of the Reform movement in Israel. “With all the incitement against the progressive movements in Israel, I have to say that I’m not surprised when things like this happen.”
According to Ben-Tsur, this is the second time his 50-year-old Reform congregation has been vandalized. In the previous incident, which took place three years ago, he said, there was clear evidence that the crime was motivated by hate, though the perpetrator was never found.
“It’s still too early to say whether this might also be a hate crime, but considering that aside from the Torah scrolls, we have very little of value in here, it doesn’t make sense that this was just an ordinary break-in,” he said.
“It is especially disturbing considering that it happened around the time of Tisha B’Av – a time when we are focused on the dangers of baseless hatred,” added Ben-Tsur.
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The break-in was recorded on surveillance cameras in the synagogue, said Ben-Tsur, and he intended to hand over footage to the police to assist them in catching the perpetrator.
This would not be the first time a Reform synagogue in the country has come under attack. Twice in the past eight years, the Reform congregation of Ra’anana, a suburb of Tel Aviv, has been vandalized. In both cases, the graffiti spray-painted on the walls of Congregation Ra’anana provided clear evidence that the crime was religiously motivated. In the most recent case, death threats were issued to leaders of the Reform movement in Israel and the United States, and the perpetrator – an ultra-Orthodox Jew who was eventually indicted – vowed to set fire to the synagogue.