People at prayer, no matter whether in a synagogue, church, mosque or temple, are vulnerable. The thought that this is the time when we most require security is a horrific indictment on us all, writes Howard Feldman.
Stephan Balliet is 27 years old. German media describes him as a neo-Nazi. A loner with no friends. A man who spent days in front of his computer. A man who believes that Jews are the "root of all problems in the world" and that he needed to kill as many of them as possible.
Stephan Balliet chose Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement to try and make his dream a reality. He chose the city of Halle in Germany and to live stream the event.
Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is a day that speaks to repentance and connection with God. It is a day of introspection and one where Jews grapple with the conundrum of becoming a better version of self.
In order to achieve this God-like state, from sunset to sunset Jews refrain from eating, drinking, showering, wearing leather and having intimate relations. It is a day that is observed by more than 60% of Jews worldwide. It is a day of immense power and focus.
It is not a day anyone should expect to be hunted.
According to the latest reports, there are today 14.1 million Jews in the world – no thanks to the mass genocide of World War Two where Hitler's Nazi party managed to murder 6 million souls.
My own family was decimated during the holocaust and although my grandparents physically survived, it didn't take more than a cursory glance at them or their children to understand how damaged and scarred they were. How could they not be? Both lost parents and siblings and came to South Africa alone and penniless as frightened teenagers, unable to speak the language or to earn a living.
I can hardly imagine, if they were alive today, what they would have felt following the Yom Kippur attack.
"We barricaded our doors from inside and waited for the police," Jewish community leader Max Privorotzki told Stuttgarter Zeitung. "In between, we carried on with our service."
This while Balliet tried to breach the building. He was armed with a self-modified shotgun and explosives. He failed to gain access, berated himself for his failure to only leave two people dead and drove off, whilst still filming his attack.
Sadly, this type of event has become more common than we would like to admit. Anti-Semitic attacks are at the highest level since pre war and are steadily climbing. Just last week an attacker tried to gain access to a synagogue in Berlin. Hardly a week goes by without an attack on Jews in the New York area, the city with the highest number of Jews outside Israel. France is well known for its hostility towards Jews and men there are told to not wear a "Kippa" head covering because of the likelihood of an attack.
Associated Press conveniently listed some of the attacks: "On October 27, 2018, a 46-year-old gunman burst into a synagogue in Pittsburg during Shabbat services, killing eleven people. He reportedly yelled 'All Jews must die!' during the attack. He was indicted on 29 counts, some of which carry the death penalty.
On April 27, 2019, a 19-year-old man claiming to be anti-Semitic and Islamophobic killed one woman and injured three others, including a rabbi, when he attacked a synagogue near San Diego, California, on the last day of Passover.
Many other places of Jewish community life have been attacked over the years; In France on March 19, 2012, a 23-year-old French-Algerian Islamist killed three children and a teacher in a Jewish school in the southwest of the country.
In the US, on April 13, 2014, a white supremacist known for his anti-Semitic views attacked a Jewish community centre and retirement home in Kansas, killing three people, none of whom were actually Jewish.
In Belgium on May 24, 2014, a man opened fire in the lobby of the Jewish Museum in Brussels, killing four. The alleged killer was arrested in France and extradited to Belgium for trial. He was sentenced to life in prison.
In France, on January 9, 2015, four Jews were killed during a hostage-taking in a Jewish supermarket in Paris by a jihadist."
The number of incidents in South Africa is low. Although there is a fair amount of anti-Semitic rhetoric, physical attacks are rare. The Jewish community, however, remains vigilant with each synagogue ensuring that they have adequate security before, during and after services.
For good reason.
People at prayer, no matter whether in a synagogue, church, mosque or temple, are vulnerable. And they need to be. The nature of prayer is that it asks the individual to abandon the material and physical world and to connect with God and with their higher self. The thought that this is the time when we most require security is a horrific indictment on us all. And needs to be condemned as loudly and as strongly as we can manage.
- Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of three books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.
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