Rabbi gets a police escort to synagogue

A rabbi has been forced to have a police escort for Shabbat services because he fears for his safety.

For the past two years, officers have followed Rabbi Yossi Schwei as he walks the one-mile route from his Luton home on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.

They began accompanying him as a precaution after youths began hurling verbal abuse at him and his family.

Rabbi Schwei said: “I don’t feel it’s really necessary, but at times in the evenings I do really appreciate it. At the moment they sometimes escort me during the day. It does prevent some abuse from passing cars.

“They make a point of knowing when I leave my house or the shul and they escort me whenever they can, but I know if they are not there I don’t wait for them.

“The community has a good relationship with the police. I have less verbal abuse in Luton than when I visit London.”

Luton Hebrew Congregation numbers around 75 families, with, on average, 15 men attending Shabbat services in a rented hall in the Limbury area, near the town centre.

Services previously took place at the Bury Park Road Synagogue, but the building was sold and converted into an Islamic centre after the area became predominantly Bangladeshi and Pakistani.

Around 27,000 of its 184,000 residents are now Muslim.

Sergeant Pete Nouch, of the Luton Central Safer Neighbourhood Team, said: “The rabbi and his family have experienced some low-level abuse from local children, both white and Muslim. There has been nothing criminal, but we had a request from the synagogue asking if we could provide some support.

“The rabbi’s house is on the periphery of the Muslim area. We’ve been doing this for nearly two years. There have only been two or three Saturdays where we have not been able to offer this service in the past six months. It’s just a community service.”

Community Security Trust spokesman Mark Gardner said: “There are certain areas where local police and community-support officers ensure that they are on the streets around synagogues on Fridays and Saturdays and sometimes rabbis are escorted on their way to shul.

“It is not, thankfully, something which is wholly necessary in all cases, but we are nevertheless grateful to the police for taking these precautionary measures.”

    Last updated: 8:56am, July 17 2008