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Johannesburg shul robbed in broad daylight

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Following what appears to be one of the first armed robberies at a shul in Johannesburg, Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein has described armed robberies targeting shuls and schools as previously “unheard of”.

Last Thursday, 15 April, at 11:30, two armed men robbed Kehillas Shomer Emunim synagogue in Percelia Estate. They entered the shul on foot and robbed Rabbi Adam Saffer and two of his congregants, Chaim Blumenfeld and Daniel Segal. The suspects allegedly had been seen loitering nearby before entering the open gate.

The robbers allegedly gagged the men with their yarmulkes, and tied them up using tallit which they cut using a knife from the shul’s kitchen.

They asked for car keys, and to be shown where there may be a safe containing money.

The suspects stole cell phones, laptop computers, and a black Toyota Run X vehicle belonging to one of the victims. No one was injured.

The incident has shocked the community and horrified Jews around the world as a number of distressing photographs and stories have been disseminated via social media and international news sites.

The photographs that were circulated appeared to be staged after the fact for dramatic effect, making the story that went around even more shocking. The photographs exacerbated fear in the community over rising crime, and lead to antisemitic comments online by people doubting the incident happened in the first place. It was also portrayed as an act of antisemitism.

In the wake of it all, the chief rabbi visited the shul last Friday night, and addressed the congregation.

He told the SA Jewish Report the incident was “an outrage which is deeply upsetting”.

“I offered words of support to the rabbi and congregants whom I found to be strong and undeterred in their attitude,” he said.

“Any incident of violent crime is deeply shocking and causes great trauma to its victims. It’s even more shocking when it happens in a shul, but of course, any attack, even in a home, is also a desecration of our most sanctified space.

“This was definitely a criminal incident and not based on antisemitism, as reported in a number of international fake-news reports. It’s disappointing that this incident was portrayed in international media in a sensationalist manner without providing any real context.”

The chief rabbi said that the community had set up Community Active Protection (CAP) as a community-based, non-profit organisation precisely to counter the threat of violent crime.

“In the more than 14 years of its holy work, CAP has managed to bring down violent crime in its areas of operation by up to 90%. It does so through its combination of proactive patrol and investigation, a highly responsive call centre, and other innovative crime-fighting tactics. Of course, one crime is one crime too many, and our vision at CAP is to aim for zero crime,” said Goldstein, who was the driving force behind CAP.

“What gives me confidence going forward is that CAP is getting more effective all the time, effecting more arrests than ever, and achieving the lowest crime rate we have had in a long time.

“The brilliance of its senior leadership, the professionalism of its call centre, and the bravery of all its tactical officers and investigators is inspiring. May Hashem continue to bless their holy and brave work in protecting us.”

Sean Jammy, the chief operating officer at CAP, said his team was “deeply distressed by the trauma experienced by the victims of the robbery at Kehillas Shomer Emunim.

“We are committed to bringing the perpetrators of this crime to justice. CAP’s security and legal division is assisting the SAPS [South African Police Service] to investigate the robbery. We are actively pursuing a number of leads, and have offered a large reward for further information leading to the arrest of the criminals responsible for this attack. We are hopeful that we will be able to apprehend suspects in this case soon.”

He said CAP together with the SAPS provincial head office serious and violent crime unit and other stakeholders had made “great progress in targeting serious violent-crime offenders”.

“This has led to the arrest of 102 serious violent-crime offenders in just the past eight months. It’s in addition to the 592 suspects apprehended by our tactical teams and subsequently arrested by the SAPS since the beginning of 2020.”

He said the tireless work of its special intervention teams, controllers, field-intelligence agents, and ongoing proactive security patrols of its areas, coupled with a deep commitment to the latest technology interventions such as CCTV and LPR (license plate recognition), continued to bear fruit. “The combined crime rate across all CAP areas has reduced every year for the past three years, and the trends are similar for the start of 2021,” Jammy said.

The Community Security Organisation (CSO) immediately sent responders to the scene, and to surrounding shuls, schools, shops, and restaurants.

“Although we do work with security companies and the police, we can’t be everywhere at all times. Our facilities also need to take the threat of crime seriously, and put in the necessary measures to keep themselves and the community as safe as possible,” said Jevon Greenblatt, the director of CSO Johannesburg.

Greenblatt said it was imperative to take all necessary steps to secure yourself, your family, and your community as much as possible.

“The key is to prevent something from happening, not to react when something happens,” he said.

This includes being vigilant about what’s happening around you, keeping your facility’s doors and gates closed and locked at all times, and if possible, hiring security guards from a reputable security company. You should ensure your alarms, panic buttons, electric fences, perimeter and interior lighting is in good working order and checked regularly. Ensure that you have a trained team of community volunteers to protect your communal facility during key times such as Shabbos, yomim tovim, and larger communal events. Immediately report anyone or anything you deem suspicious.

The victims have declined to comment.

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