British family and friends of the victims of Tuesday’s terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue have told Jewish News of their shock and sorrow at the loss of four prominent members of a close-knit community.
Israel was left reeling this week following the brutal murders of the men, who were killed during morning prayers at the Har Nof synagogue. They were British citizen Rabbi Avraham Goldberg and rabbis Aryeh Kapinsky, Kalman Levine and Moshe Twersky – all of whom held dual US-Israeli citizenship.
A fifth man, Druze police officer Zidan Saif, who was first at the scene, died from his injuries.
The attack took place shortly after 7am, when two men from East Jerusalem’s Jabel Mukaber neighbourhood stormed the Kehillat Bnei Torah Synagogue in Har Nof, wielding axes, knives and a pistol.
They were shot dead by police. Around 20 members of the community were in the synagogue at the time of the attack. The murderers, reported to be cousins Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal, were both killed by Israeli police who arrived at the scene within minutes.
Speaking to Jewish News, a cousin of Rabbi Goldberg – who was born in Liverpool and lived in Golders Green before making aliyah – described her “utter disbelief” on hearing the news and revealed Rabbi Goldberg had planned to visit London next week.
“I heard the news on the radio that there had been an attack on a synagogue in the area Avraham lives,” said Michelle Hirschfield, who lives in East Finchley. “There are a lot of synagogues in the Har Nof area, so I just prayed it wasn’t his.”
On contacting her sister who lives in Ra’anana, she learned Avraham had in fact been killed. “My heart skipped a beat,” said Norrice Lea synagogue member Mrs Hirschfield, who flew out to Israel on Wednesday.
“I couldn’t quite believe that my own flesh and blood had been murdered.” Although Rabbi Goldberg is a second cousin of hers (their fathers were cousins) Emunah trustee Mrs Hirschfield said he was “like my brother”.
She added: “Avraham was an only child and I was one of five so when we were growing up in Liverpool we treated him as though he were our sibling.” Having visited her cousin’s home regularly, Hirschfield said she last saw Avraham – who worked as a chemical engineer up until his retirement when he started publishing Jewish books – a couple of months ago in Israel.
“He was a very special man and even though he was deeply religious he never pushed his views onto other people. “His main ambition was to set up schools for Charedi children to ensure they got a good education to go on and get a job and not live off the state.” As for her cousin’s wife, Hirschfield said she would be supported by the community which is very tight-knit. “She is in shock. She cannot accept what has happened. In a moment a life is shattered. I was due to meet my cousin for lunch next week.
The fact I will never see him again is too tragic for words.” A former member of Norrice Lea synagogue, British teacher Rabbi Jonathan Taub was close friends with all four of the victims killed in the attack.
He told Jewish News of his “unimaginable pain” at returning to the place where the atrocities happened. The brother of Israeli ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, said the atmosphere at the evening prayers service on Tuesday was “indescribable”. He added: “You cannot begin to imagine the shock we all felt davening in the same synagogue where four of our members had been killed that same day,” said Rabbi Taub, who made aliyah 30 years ago.
“I am still struggling for words but seeing the four Yahrzeit candles burning inside the shul made me break down and cry.” Speaking after leaving a prayer service at the home of British-born victim Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg on Wednesday, Rabbi Taub said “the families have been torn apart. Rabbi Goldberg’s wife Beila is destroyed”.
Having prayed at the Har Nov synagogue for 25 years, Rabbi Taub had become very close friends with all four men who died. Although he regularly attended the early minyan, he missed Tuesday’s service as he was teaching. “I see these men almost every day. When I first heard about the attack I couldn’t believe it. All four of them are the most wonderful people you could meet.”
The other victims were very “holy men who despite being religious didn’t implore their beliefs on anyone.” According to Rabbi Taub, they were “humble men who were both extremely modest.”