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From Germany to America, synagogues are frequently the target of attacks

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/9/2019 Jennifer Hassan

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LONDON — A shooting near a synagogue in the German city of Halle claimed at least two lives Wednesday, an attack that coincided with Yom Kippur — one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar.

Anti-Semitic hate crimes have risen on German soil and in other European countries in recent years, with synagogues — once considered safe havens — frequently becoming targets.

And it’s not just in Europe. According to a report issued this year, anti-Semitic incidents around the world rose 13 percent in 2018.

In October 2018, an armed gunman opened fire inside Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, killing 11 people and wounding many more. The massacre became the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

At the time, police said the motive of the alleged shooter, Robert Bowers, was “to kill Jews.”

Slideshow by Reuters

While synagogues in Germany are usually protected by police, worshipers and officials around the world are increasingly forced to weigh tighter security measures. In the United States, the Pittsburgh massacre prompted many to debate the idea of ramping up security measures in and around holy buildings.

Those in support of the measures think tighter security would make people feel safer, while others fear the protective steps could make a place of worship less welcoming.

While speaking to reporters after the attack, President Trump was asked whether the shooting would prompt the United States to revisit its gun laws. “This has little to do with it. If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better,” he said, suggesting that armed guards could help prevent atrocities.

After Trump’s remarks, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto hit back, saying: “I don’t think that the answer to this problem is solved by having our synagogues, mosques and churches filled with armed guards.”

a woman standing next to a fire hydrant: Mourners gather at a memorial in front of the Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 29, 2018, where 11 people were killed in a mass shooting. (Justin Merriman for The Washington Post) © Justin Merriman/For The Washington Post Mourners gather at a memorial in front of the Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 29, 2018, where 11 people were killed in a mass shooting. (Justin Merriman for The Washington Post)

Just six months after the Tree of Life shooting, a 19-year-old white man killed one person and wounded three more when he opened fire at a California synagogue. The shooting, which took place on the last day of the Jewish holiday of Passover, sent shock waves through the local community.

In May, a man threw molotov cocktails at a Chicago synagogue in an effort to set it on fire, police said. After the attempted arson attack and other reports of vandalism at synagogues in the surrounding area, the Chicago Police Department was forced to ramp up security outside Jewish schools, businesses and synagogues.

According to a report released this year, the most serious anti-Semitic incidents of 2018 took place in the United States and the United Kingdom, followed by France, Germany and Canada. 

a group of people on a sidewalk next to a car: Police stand near the covered body of a victim as they secure the area in front of the wall of a Jewish cemetery at the site of a shooting in Halle an der Saale, eastern Germany, on Oct. 9. (Swen Pförtner/dpa/AFP via Getty Images) © Swen Pfortner/Dpa/Afp Via Getty Images Police stand near the covered body of a victim as they secure the area in front of the wall of a Jewish cemetery at the site of a shooting in Halle an der Saale, eastern Germany, on Oct. 9. (Swen Pförtner/dpa/AFP via Getty Images) In the United Kingdom, a record number of anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in the first six months of 2019 by Jewish charity Community Security Trust. The report, which was shared in August, said that 892 incidents had been recorded — a 10 percent increase from the 810 incidents recorded during the first six months of 2018.

In July, a far-right extremist set fire to a synagogue — and himself — after pouring fuel through a synagogue’s windows in Devon, a seaside county in England. The attack coincided with a Jewish feast day that is used to commemorate the Holocaust.

During his arrest, the suspect allegedly said: “Please tell me that synagogue is burning to the ground. If not, it’s poor preparation,” the BBC reported at the time.

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