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From the Archive: Synagogues under fire

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Jews around the world mourned Tuesday after two Palestinians entered Jerusalem’s Kehillat Yakov synagogue during morning prayer services and went on a killing rampage that left five dead and several more wounded.

Sadly, it wasn’t the first time a synagogue was attacked by Palestinians or their sympathizers.

On Aug. 29, 1981, two Palestinian terrorists wearing yarmulkes and posing as Jews attempted to enter a bar mitzvah service at a Vienna synagogue. When an Austrian police officer asked them for identity papers, the two launched a machine gun and grenade attack that killed two and wounded over 15.

Interestingly, the attack was the first time that some Palestinian West Bank leaders felt moved to condemn a Palestinian terror attack, with Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij calling it “an act of brutality which distorted the image of the Palestinian people.”

Just more than a year later, five Palestinian gunmen walked up to the Great Synagogue of Rome’s back entrance at the conclusion of Sabbath services and threw at least three hand grenades at the crowd before spraying the worshipers with submachine gun fire, killing a 2-year old and wounding 37 others.

And on Sept. 6, 1986 two terrorists posing as cameramen made their way into Turkey’s Neve Shalom synagogue. Once inside they barred the heavy gates, opened fire on the congregants with machine guns and hurled grenades. In all, 22 of the approximately 30 worshipers were killed. JTA reported at the time that it was the bloodiest synagogue massacre since the Nazi-era.

Though its name is Hebrew for “oasis of peace,” Neve Shalom suffered two other terror attacks. In 1992, a grenade attack slightly injured a bystander but failed to damage the synagogue or any of its worshipers. Then in November 2003, a car bomb exploded nearby, damaging the synagogue enough that it had to close for almost a year.

Months later, community leaders told JTA they were finding it “very difficult — if not impossible — to return to life as it was before.”

“We are in an ongoing trauma situation,” says Lina Filiba, the Turkish Jewish community’s executive vice president. “The whole community right now is a construction pit — it’s a continuation of the crisis that started Nov. 15.”

“The change of lifestyle, the security consciousness, the restriction on the use of facilities is something that people are still getting used to.”

While synagogue services have been targeted far more frequently in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict than have Muslim worship services, it is worth noting that one of the deadliest attacks on a house of worship happened inside a mosque. In 1994, a machine gun-armed Jewish physician — Baruch Goldstein — walked into the mosque inside Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, killing 29 worshipers and wounding another 150.

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