Yom Kippur synagogue attack leaves German Jews still uneasy

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FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 11, 2019 file photo, candles reflect in an entrance sign after a human chain with lights was formed around the Jewish synagogue during the Sabbath celebrations in Halle (Saale), Germany, following an attack on the synagogue on Yom Kippur 2019. As Jews around the world gather Sunday night to mark the beginning of Yom Kippur, many in Germany remain uneasy about going together to their houses of worship to pray, a year after a white-supremacist targeted a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle on the holiest day in Judaism. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer, file)

BERLIN – As Jews around the world gather Sunday night to mark the beginning of Yom Kippur, many in Germany remain uneasy about going together to their houses of worship to pray, a year after a white-supremacist targeted a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle on the holiest day in Judaism.

If the assailant — armed with multiple firearms and explosives —had managed to break into the building, there's no telling how many of the 52 worshippers inside might have been killed. As it was, he turned his attentions on people outside, killing a passer-by and a man at a kebab stand before he was apprehended.

Since then, security has been increased at Jewish institutions across the country, but many wonder whether it is enough amid reports of increasing anti-Semitism and the Halle attack still fresh in their minds.

Naomi Henkel-Guembel was inside the building that day a year ago, and didn't immediately understand what was happening when she heard a loud bang outside.

Together with other young Jews from Berlin, the 29-year-old had traveled to the eastern German city to celebrate Yom Kippur, which fell on Oct. 9 in 2019, with the small, aging community there.

She still remembers the scene vividly as the 28-year-old German right-wing extremist tried to barge into the synagogue, shooting at the heavy door in an unsuccessful attempt to force it open, then throwing explosives over a wall into a cemetery inside the compound while livestreaming the attack.

“When I heard the second explosion and saw a light flash outside the window, I knew that this was an anti-Semitic incident,” said Henkel-Guembel.

"Still, I was not aware of the dimension of what was happening outside of the sanctuary — I would have never thought that somebody would throw explosive devices at the synagogue and the adjacent cemetery.”