More firebombings rocked Jewish institutions in France, Belgium and Canada in the past week, including three more synagogue attacks, even as an estimated 200,000 Jews in France — half the country’s adult Jewish population — marched Sunday to protest anti-Semitism and in support of Israel.
In Canada, a synagogue was firebombed Friday night in Saskatoon, destroying or damaging its library. It was the sixth arson attack on a Canadian synagogue since Palestinian violence erupted in Israel 18 months ago and the most serious, according to the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Susanne Kaplan, president of the synagogue, Congregation Agudas Israel, said she was thankful that the congregation’s seven Torahs were rescued. She said that despite smoke damage, the congregation has been able to hold services in the building.
In Berlin, the son of a Lubavitch leader on Long Island was set upon by a group of as many as 10 men, believed to be Arabs, as he walked recently along the main shopping strip at night.
Zalman Teldon, 21, a rabbinical student whose father, Tuvia, is the coordinator of Lubavitch activities on Long Island, recalled walking past “a guy of about 20 sitting on the ledge of a building [that housed an] Internet cafe.”
“As I waited at the corner to cross the street, he yelled ‘Yudin’ [Jew],” said Teldon, who was wearing the traditional black hat and coat of his chasidic sect. “I turned, ignored him and continued walking. I walked about a block and then I heard the sound of someone running behind me.
“I turned and he came around in front of me and put out his hand to touch me. He said in German, ‘Are you Jewish?’ I said yes.”
At that, the man, who Teldon believes was Arab, punched Teldon in the face and a group of seven to 10 of his companions suddenly appeared and began punching him, too.
“They pushed and hit me,” Teldon said during an interview after returning to his Commack home. “I was screaming for help. One kicked me in the stomach and another kicked me in my left leg. The whole incident lasted about one minute. The whole time I was punching and screaming and running, trying to escape.”
He said his companion, Zev Goldberg, 21, of Crown Heights, a fellow rabbinical student, tried in vain to get passers-by to help stop the attack. There were no arrests.
Teldon said he was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he received stitches to close gashes inside and outside of his mouth.
“It could have been much worse,” said his mother, Chaya. “It’s really something to be beaten up just because you’re Jewish.”
In Belgium, Molotov cocktails were thrown at synagogues in Antwerp and Brussels last week. No injuries were reported and no arrests were made.
But for the first time in 18 months of anti-Semitic attacks in France — the Representative Council of French Jewish Groups, or CRIF, puts the total at 450 — police reported 40 arrests this week in connection with some of the incidents. The arrests came after a synagogue in Marseille was burned to the ground two weeks ago, the third arson attack on a French synagogue that weekend.
Emanuel Weintraub, a member of the CRIF executive, said he believed the police crackdown was because of the attacks on the synagogues, especially the one in Lyon that involved 15 individuals.
“We have had cases of heavy insults, spitting on worshipers going to the synagogue, throwing stones at Jews — all of which makes life unpleasant,” Weintraub said. “But what has happened in the past few days with the attacks on the synagogues has made the authorities really concerned. The Lyon attack has been taken very seriously by authorities because it smacks of” an organized group.
The police reportedly have charged nine people in connection with the firebombing of three synagogues. Weintraub said three of the suspects were nabbed after they threw Molotov cocktails at a synagogue in southern France.
“They missed the synagogue — can you imagine — and they hit the government office building next to it,” he said.
And just a few days ago, a would-be arsonist hurled a Molotov cocktail at another synagogue in Marseille that missed the synagogue and hit a policeman standing guard outside the building, Weintraub said.
In all, Weintraub said, CRIF has recorded in the last 18 months 40 attacks on synagogues, incidents at 50 to 60 Jewish schools, two or three occasions in which stones have been thrown at the buses of Jewish schools, and the recent firebombing of an empty bus that belonged to a Jewish school.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the North American Boards of Rabbis, and Martin Luther King III, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, met Tuesday with France’s consul general in New York, Richard Duque, and offered to help establish a program in the schools that would promote multicultural understanding and tolerance. Rabbi Schneier said Duque suggested that the violence in the Israel was a catalyst for the attacks.
But David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said “those who rationalize that this is caused by the Middle East are missing the point. The widely held antipathy to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon in Europe is giving cover to those who question Israel’s right to exist, who don’t like Jews, or who want to unload themselves of the burden of the Holocaust. There is a deeper phenomenon that can’t be ignored.”
Phil Baum, senior adviser on world affairs for the American Jewish Congress, said that although French officials are saying the right words in response to the attacks, “They have not said them with as much vigor and conviction as one might have hoped.”
French President Jacque Chirac Monday said he “severely condemned” the attacks but he said he did not believe the French people were becoming anti-Semitic.
Weintraub agreed, saying that Arabs are believed to have committed “99 percent” of the attacks. France has a population of 5 million Arabs and 600,000 Jews.
Sunday’s pro-Israel rallies in Paris and other sites followed weeks of pro-Palestinian rallies in Europe and the Middle East.
In Paris, 120,000 people turned out “Against Terror, For Peace,” as one banner read.
But the rally was tinged with violence. A policeman was stabbed in the stomach during a fight between a Jewish Defense League group and pro-Palestinian protesters.
Another scuffled occurred between a group of Peace Now demonstrators, who held a separate march, and others from the main rally.