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Belfast rabbi puts his flock on alert over anti-Semitism rise

By Lisa Smyth

Published 03/10/2016

Concerns: Rabbi David Singer
Concerns: Rabbi David Singer

Members of the Jewish community have been warned against gathering outside Belfast's synagogue after a leading rabbi claimed anti-Semitic attacks were on the rise in the city.

Rabbi David Singer said the congregation, most of whom are elderly, have been told to chat with friends inside the building after religious services.

He explained the community had been left extremely distressed by a series of attacks, including the daubing of graffiti on the synagogue at Somerton Road in north Belfast, and the destruction of 13 Jewish graves in the west of the city in August.

He also said he was receiving an increasing number of letters and emails making disparaging comments about the Jewish religion, and had reported the matter to the police.

"Certainly things have been different over the last couple of months," he said. "The strange emails coming in to me have been arriving with greater frequency.

"They aren't threatening, just strange, they are teasing things to do with the Jewish religion.

"They are addressed to me and, while I am not taking them personally, I am taking them personally on behalf of the Jewish community.

"These emails are being bounced around the world so we have no idea who is sending them, but I have spoken to the police and they are looking into it now."

Rabbi Singer, who was speaking out on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, said he had no idea why there had been an increase in attacks.

"I don't think these people really need an excuse," he added.

"The majority of the Jewish community here are senior citizens so we have had to take steps and measures to ask people to be extremely vigilant.

"We've had to tell people that after services they should not congregate outside the synagogue, that if they want to talk to their friends, they should do it inside.

"We will have more people coming to the synagogue over the next couple of days so we are asking people to be vigilant.

"Of course, we have also been working with the police, and I must say that they deserve every praise.

"It's not that we are expecting to be attacked, but we are taking measures to be sensible.

"It isn't that people are walking around afraid, but the level of consciousness has increased.

"I would say that, historically, Northern Ireland has been a very friendly place for Jewish people, but that seems to have changed slightly."

At the same time, however, Rabbi Singer said he had been overwhelmed by messages of support. "It has been absolutely tremendous," he added.

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin has appealed to anyone with information about attacks on the Jewish community to contact police.

Posting on Twitter, he said he was very concerned by Rabbi Singer's comments. He added: "Diversity is a strength. Hate crime is unacceptable."

Police hit out after they were called to Belfast City Cemetery in August and found 13 Jewish graves had been vandalised. Chief Inspector Norman Haslett said at the time it was "a particularly sickening incident" that the PSNI was treating as a hate crime.

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