Police seek Chicago synagogue arsonist caught on camera

Chicago police are searching for a suspect who allegedly attempted to set fire to Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation.

By JNS.org

The Chicago Police Department is on the hunt for a man who allegedly left two Molotov cocktails at Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in the Lakeview neighborhood on Sunday, in addition to throwing another cocktail at the adjacent Florence G. Heller Jewish Community Center.

The incident was caught on the synagogue’s camera, showing the suspect, carrying a black bag, wearing a hooded black jacket, black pants and black shoes.

“We saw somebody try to approach the synagogue and light some fires and try to ignite and throw them at the building in an attempt to start a fire, and he went off,” Rabbi David Wolkenfield told ABC affiliate WLS-TV.

There apparently is additional footage, courtesy of a surveillance camera at a nearby commercial property, showing the suspect’s face, Jewish United Fund spokesperson Jay Tcath told JNS.

The people from that space, who have asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, turned over the footage to the Chicago Police Department, he added.

Chicago Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi declined to confirm the additional footage to JNS, citing  “a myriad of reasons.”

Smashed windows

Additionally, windows of cars parked outside a synagogue in the Jewish neighborhood of West Rogers Park were smashed early Saturday morning. It is uncertain as to whether the vandalism was related to anti-Semitic motives or if the vandalism was connected to the attempted arson at Anshe Sholom, though police are looking into those possibilities, Guglielmi told JNS.

Guglielmi told JNS that police are looking for a Hispanic or white male and a black male who may be involved in either one of the incidents. He declined to say which suspect was allegedly involved in each incident, saying, “We don’t have anybody in custody. What we put out publicly could influence what these individuals say during a formal interrogation. We’re being very conservative on details that we’re putting out.”

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Deputy Police Superintendent Anthony Ricci ordered Jewish synagogues, institutions and Jewish-owned businesses to receive “special attention” as the investigations continue.

“Someone attempted to violate the sacred space that serves as the beating heart of our vibrant community,” said Wolkenfield in a letter posted on the synagogue’s Facebook page. “Our response must be to rededicate ourselves to honoring the sanctity of our shul. We will celebrate Shabbat as a community and take advantage of other times to engage in prayer during the week. We will stand together and support one another when we are frightened or in need of help.”

Tcath said the response by police “has been, as is usual, fabulous.”

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League condemned the arson attempt.

“The willful effort to attack a house of worship, to try to burn it down, is a chilling reminder, at a time of rising anti-Semitism in the United States, of the vulnerability of synagogues and other Jewish institutions,” said Laurence Bolotin, director of AJC Chicago. “Thankfully, no one was hurt, and the Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation was not damaged, but this incident demonstrates yet again the need for vigilance by the Jewish community and law enforcement.”

“While thankfully the attacks did not cause any injuries or damage, this incident is yet another disturbing reminder of the recent escalation in attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions,” said the ADL in a statement.