Voice of the Jewish News: Whose synagogue will it be tomorrow?

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Voice of the Jewish News: Whose synagogue will it be tomorrow?

What could have happened in the Texas shul hostage-taking is too awful to imagine, but too awful to ignore. It begs the question: How safe are our Jewish communities?

Richard Ferrer

Richard Ferrer has been editor of Jewish News since 2009. As one of Britain's leading Jewish voices he writes for The Times, Independent, New Statesman and many other titles. Richard previously worked at the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, edited the Boston Jewish Advocate and created the Channel 4 TV series Jewish Mum Of The Year.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron- Walker is embraced by a congregant after the synagogue siege
Rabbi Charlie Cytron- Walker is embraced by a congregant after the synagogue siege

He did what any good rabbi would do: he invited him in. It was only after Malik Faisal Akram had been offered a cup of tea and a seat, only when the good rabbi’s back had turned so that he could face Jerusalem, that he heard the click of a gun.

This time, it was a shul in Texas. In October 2019, it was a shul in Halle, Germany. In April 2019, it was a shul in Poway, California. In October 2018, it was a shul in Pittsburgh. That’s a rate of more than one a year. That’s antisemitism today.

Last weekend, mercifully, only the terrorist, a 44-year-old Muslim from Blackburn, perished at Congregation Beth Israel. Next time, and there will be a next time, it will be another synagogue. It’s too awful to imagine but too awful to ignore that, yes, it could be your synagogue.

When all is said and done, how safe are we?

How was Malik Faisal Akram radicalised? Why did MI5 not consider him a threat?

Many questions demand answers. How was Malik Faisal Akram radicalised? Why did MI5 not consider him a threat? (Akram was known to Lancashire police and had criminal convictions). How did he obtain a visa to enter the United States and purchase a handgun? What role might the two teenagers arrested in Manchester on Sunday (US media reports they are Akram’s sons) have played? And why, in the hours that followed, did news outlets, including the BBC, wilfully ignore the antisemitic incentive behind attacking a synagogue?

This Shabbat should be about reflection, not recrimination.

We give thanks that the gun only clicked that day, and wait with patience for answers as to how a 44-year-old terrorist from England went to the US and held several Jewish worshippers hostage for 11 hours. Answers should come soon but, for now, can wait. This Shabbat should be about reflection, not recrimination.

All of us can picture ourselves in that synagogue hall, siddur in hand, eyes on the rabbi behind the bimah, reciting familiar prayers. Our shuls are sanctuaries, second homes, houses of God to welcome the stranger. Indeed, Congregation Beth Israel’s Rabbi Cytron-Walker invited Akram in for a cup of tea. But then, as the rabbi chillingly recalled: “As we prayed, my back turned, faced towards Jerusalem, I heard the click of a gun.”

The FBI outside Congregation Beth Israel last Saturday.

What followed was a painful reminder of how vulnerable Jewish communities around the world can be, despite the security gates and guards, CCTV cameras, barbed wire fences and even blast doors. Short of Minority Report-style pre-crime arrests, we like to think we’ve got it covered. Have we? Is four attacks in less than four years ‘covered’?

It was also a reminder of the threat we face from radical Islam at a time when British Jews have been focused on the antisemitism of the far left. Generational antisemitism is ingrained in too many British Muslims.

Indeed, one Blackburn Muslim Community Facebook page’s unspeakable response to the terror attack was an expression of hope that Akram would be blessed “with the highest ranks of paradise”. What, you wonder, would he have been blessed with if he’d actually killed Jews?

Despite the upsetting events of recent days, ours remains a community defined by its illustrious contribution to British life, not the twisted threats of scumbags. Last weekend’s synagogue attack will do little to dent our well-won self-confidence.

It has, however, dealt a fresh blow to our sense of security.

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