Vandals destroy Siberian shul as anti-Semitism rises in region

MOSCOW, March 9 (JTA) — The scourge of anti-Semitism sweeping across Russia has reached the frozen tundra of Siberia — and Jews are reacting with increased levels of emigration. Vandals this week went on a rampage at a synagogue in the city of Novosibirsk, destroying much of the synagogue in the attack. They demolished the synagogue’s furniture, tore up prayer books and scattered Torah scrolls and prayer shawls around the hall, according to Zalman Zaklos, the synagogue’s rabbi. In addition, a swastika and anti-Semitic graffiti were scrawled on the walls and ceiling, he said in a telephone interview from Novosibirsk. No one was hurt in the incident. The vandals left graffiti smeared with a cigarette butt that linked the attack to Russian National Unity, a neo-Nazi organization active throughout the country. “It was a real pogrom,” Zaklos said. Some members of the community believe that the incident may have been a response to a high-profile Jewish event held in Novosibirsk over the weekend. Approximately 1,000 people attended a Purim concert here after a well- publicized advertisement campaign in the local media, Jewish leaders say. The synagogue, which is located on the city’s Communist Street, is the only active Jewish house of prayer in Novosibirsk, a city of 1.5 million that is home to 10,000 Jews. The run-down building, which had been confiscated from the Jews by the Communists, was returned to the community last year. The community had finished renovating one room and started holding services there only recently. Zaklos, an Israeli and a Lubavitch representative, arrived in Novosibirsk just 10 days ago to take up the vacant position of city rabbi. For several years, Jewish communities in Siberia had generally reported a low level of anti-Semitism, but the situation has been worsening lately amid a recent increase in Russian anti-Semitism, sparked in part by the nation’s ongoing economic troubles. Last fall, city residents found anti-Semitic leaflets stuffed in their mailboxes, and last week, anti-Semitic graffiti threatening Jews appeared in several places around the city, according to Elena Turetskaya, chairwoman of Esther, the Novosibirsk Jewish Welfare Center. The police are investigating the attack on the synagogue, and a spokesperson for the city said it would allocate space to the Jewish community to conduct services until the synagogue hall is repaired. In recent months, Novosibirsk has shown one of the highest rates of increase of Jewish emigration in all of Russia. Last month, 170 people from the region emigrated to Israel, a 200 percent increase compared to last February. Jewish officials say the economic crisis and fears of anti-Semitism are helping motivate those who had already tentatively decided to emigrate to finalize their moves.

NEXT STORY