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Lakeview, Wrigleyville, Northalsted

Molotov Cocktails Found Outside Lakeview Synagogue Won’t Deter Congregation: ‘We Will Rise Above The Fear … Arsonist Hoped To Instill’

Police are trying to identify the man captured on surveillance video outside Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel Congregation in the 500 block of West Melrose Street.

Police are looking for the pictured subject in relation to an attempted arson at a synagogue.
Chicago Police Department
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CHICAGO — Leaders of a Lakeview synagogue victimized by an arsonist who threw three Molotov cocktails at it this weekend vowed Monday not to be deterred.

Police meanwhile are trying to identify the man captured on surveillance video outside Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation in the 500 block of West Melrose Street around 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

No one was hurt — and there was no fire damage to the synagogue. But the attempt, which the synagogue’s rabbi said was “an attempt to frighten or intimidate,” caused the leaders to speak out.

“In our synagogue, behind the stained-glass windows that the arsonist failed to break, we will come together to worship and study and grow,” Leah Sarna, director of religious engagement, wrote in a piece for The Atlantic about the incident.

“Together we will rise above the fear that the arsonist so desperately hoped to instill in us. Our synagogue will remain a powerful reminder that humans can and will and must gather, with all of our differences, because only in community can we live out our fullest human potentials of holiness, kindness, and service.”

Sarna wrote that after maintenance staff noticed the bottles were surrounded by puddles of oil and charred rags, they contacted police and reviewed surveillance camera footage.

The arsonist is described in a community alert as appearing to be a man with a “light skinned complexion, wearing a black jacket with a hoodie, black pants and black shoes and carrying a black bag.”

As of 4:50 p.m. Monday, police did not have anybody in custody.

“Attacks of this sort are intended to frighten and intimidate us and it is quite natural to feel fear or anxiety,” Rabbi David Wolkenfeld wrote in a letter posted on the congregation’s Facebook page. “I encourage you to practice self-care and monitor your own feelings and those of your family.”

Wolkenfeld said in an interview that while the incident is alarming, the community is steadfast. He said it is heartwarming to see the solidarity and support coming in.

“We’re not going to be deterred from living our lives as Jews because of this event,” he said.

“Our sacred space had been violated, but the Torah had something to say about it. The Torah knows that people living in proximity occasionally cause one another harm, even through fire, and the Torah tells us: It’s worth it. Stay.

Sarna wrote that she used the incident as a teachable moment during her regular Sunday evening class in Jewish law.

If you have information about the incident, call 312-746-7618. Anonymous tips can be submitted to CPDTIP.com.