Congregants flee after man breaks into shul

By Jonathan Kalmus, December 11, 2008
Consternation in the courtyard of the Satmar Synagogue as police inspect the intruder’s car

Consternation in the courtyard of the Satmar Synagogue as police inspect the intruder’s car

Congregants of a Satmar Chasidic synagogue fled last week after an intruder, dressed in an over-sized winter coat, mounted the platform in front of the Ark and apparently began shouting in a foreign language.

The incident occurred in the midst of an afternoon prayer service at the Satmar Synagogue on Northumberland Street in North Manchester. Fifty worshippers inside scrambled to exits; police arrived on the scene within minutes after receiving a number of panicked phone calls.

Witnesses reported that a man pulled into the synagogue car park in a Mercedes saloon, left the engine running and walked calmly into the synagogue. When asked to leave, he replied: “I am Abraham,” and proceeded to climb the steps to the Ark.

Eli Levy, who was praying at the front of the synagogue, feared the worst. He said: “On the stage he turned around to face everyone and started screaming in another language. Everyone thought what I thought - it was Mumbai. If it had happened two weeks before, we wouldn’t have reacted like we did.”

Yehuda Glans, 22, who was visiting from Israel, pulled the car keys out of the Mercedes’ ignition to stop the man escaping.

“Everyone was running out and he was walking behind them, still shouting. Foreign music was blasting from his car and I saw the door open, so I took the keys.”

Arriving before police was a volunteer from “Shomrim”, a religious community security organisation.

He said: “I got the call on my radio that it was terrorism, but when I arrived I realised that it wasn’t. The man had abandoned his car and its contents didn’t link to anything like that.”

Police officers stopped the man, said to be 47 years old, as he walked down Northumberland Street after the disturbance. He was detained under the Mental Health Act and was later taken to hospital for assessment.

The police later posted a letter inside the synagogue to reassure the local community. It read: “In the current climate of what is happening elsewhere in the world, it is understandable people will fear and think the worst.”

Last updated: 2:04pm, December 11 2008