Chicago synagogues targeted in rash of suspected hate crimes

Authorities investigating Molotov cocktails found outside Congregation Anshe Sholom; police giving ‘special attention’ to Jewish schools, businesses and houses of worship

Police and Rabbi David Wolkenfeld investigating suspected arson outside Anshei Sholom B'nei Israel synagogue in Chicago on May 19, 2019. (screen capture: Fox32 Chicago)
Police and Rabbi David Wolkenfeld investigating suspected arson outside Anshei Sholom B'nei Israel synagogue in Chicago on May 19, 2019. (screen capture: Fox32 Chicago)

Police in Chicago have beefed up security for the local Jewish community following separate incidents of vandalism and attempted arson at local synagogues over the weekend.

Worshipers who arrived at Congregation Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel synagogue in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood Sunday morning discovered broken glass and charred black rags outside the building.

Police later confirmed that an unknown assailant twice attempted to set the building on fire around midnight on Saturday. No one was injured and there was no damage to the synagogue.

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said police were also investigating vandalism outside several synagogues in the city’s West Rogers Park neighborhood, where the windows of cars parked outside the building were smashed early Sunday morning.

Guglielmi said Jewish schools, businesses and synagogues in the city would receive “special attention” while detectives probed the suspected hate crimes.

He said police investigators were in possession of “good video evidence” of the arson attempt, and that two suspects in the cases had been identified.

The surveillance footage from Anshe Sholom was not released to the public, but local media reported that police were looking for a light-skinned male wearing a hooded black jacket. Guglielmi said the other suspect was an African American male in his 30s or 40s.

Anshe Sholom’s rabbi, David Wolkenfeld, told local media outlets it was “shocking” to see the anti-Semitic displays in Chicago.

“This synagogue is so central to so many people in this neighborhood, and this is such a wonderful city to be Jewish, so it’s shocking to realize there can be someone so filled with hate to engage in an action like this,” Wolkenfeld said.

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld speaks to the media following an attempted arson attack at the Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel synagogue in Chicago on May 19, 2019. (screen capture: ABC7 Chicago)

In a statement posted on Anshe Sholom’s Facebook page, Wolkenfeld urged members of his congregation to attend services this coming Shabbat to “rededicate ourselves to honoring the sanctity of our shul.”

Last month, the Anti-Defamation League said in its annual report that American Jews experienced “near-historic levels of anti-Semitism” in 2018.

Last year saw a more than doubling of the number of anti-Semitic physical assaults compared to 2017, as well as the single deadliest attack against the American Jewish community with the October killing of 11 congregants at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.

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