Sunday, January 01, 2012


Break In at our Synagogue

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

How would you handle it?

This past Shabbos our synagogue was broken into.  It’s a story with some strange twists and turns, and I’d like your opinion on how to handle it.

During Friday night services (Kabbolos Shabbos) a few of our local off the derech (non-observant children from observant or charedi families) teens stopped by our synagogue.  This isn’t that unusual, sometimes they’ll stop by to check out if we’re having a farbrengen the next day, under the assumption that they can get a l’chaim or two (a bit of vodka) during the farbrengen and some decent snacks.  We’re welcoming and friendly, glad to give them an excuse to step into synagogue.

They poked their heads in for about 10 minutes and then disappeared.  A bit unusual.  No one is obligated to stay through services, but it’s unusual for people to just pop-in, hang for a few, and walk.

And the end of services the rabbi and I went to straighten and lock up.  We found the side door key missing, something we don’t have a spare of.  We had no idea what happened to the key. There were a number of younger children in synagogue, it’s possible one had wandered over and grabbed the key as a toy. We looked around, checked the grounds, no key.

We had no choice but to leave the facility unlocked, unhappy about that and knowing we’d have to call a locksmith after Shabbat.

Much later that night a large group of teens was spotted in the synagogue.  Someone chased them out, noting the leader of the group.

In the morning on entering the synagogue we found the kitchen area a mess, a number of cakes and sodas consumed and left on the floor.  (We’ve had incidences of liquor disappearing in the past, so we no longer keep any, not even wine, in the synagogue but bring it at kiddush time.)  No damage, thank G-d, just a mess.

Later in the day the person who chased them out came by and informed us who he saw.  We recognized them as the teens who had stopped by at the start of services, and know the family they’re from (not part of our synagogue).

After the end of Shabbos we were faced with some possible choices, noting that our first worry was getting the key to be able to lock the facility (and the cost of replacing a lock on a Saturday night with a very tight synagogue budget).

1. Call the police and report the incident.  The chance of the Israeli police taking immediate action (going to try to get the key back) is very low, though they probably would get around to it later that week and deal with a criminal complaint against the teens – which would at least give an impression that doing such a thing (breaking and entering, burglary and possession of stolen property [eating stolen food]) is serious and to be avoided.

2. Call the parent (unfortunately a divorced family).  The teens would probably deny it and it could turn into a pressure situation, but we might get the key back or get the parent to pay for the locksmith.

3. Do nothing but set them up in the future, knowing who they are and that they’re doing this, by getting some syrup of ipecac and leaving a bottle of spiked vodka in the synagogue (syrup of ipecac is used to cause vomiting in case of accidental ingestion of poison by a child) – with an expected result of extended vomiting to result by those who partake. 

4. Do nothing but set them up by waiting in synagogue after services (have our family meal there), waiting with snacks and drinks and offer a Shabbos good time.  Basically try to start a youth group from the incident by the surprise of catching them in the act.

What do you think we should do?


  1. #3 is a very bad idea. Whatever you decide, don't do that one. Maybe you can contact the parents in a way that also reaches out to the kids.

  2. My suggestion is first try to deal with the boy directly, if possible. I would try and locate the group-leader and tell him 2 things.

    1. Notice: He is being held responsible for what happened and is expected to return the key. Advise him what the cost of replacing the lock will be, and that it will be his responsibility if the key is not returned. (although, I would point out that it is only an assumption that they have key, albeit a valid one.) If he comes clean, this incident will not be pursued any further.

    2. Warning: Should such a thing occur again in the future he will be reported and be made to pay the damages etc. regardless of who else may have been involved.

  3. Agree with both posters above.

    Option 3 is not guaranteed to affect the ring leader and may make another ill who was duped in to coming along for a free drink.

    The key may be a bit of a red herring, as you say a younger child may have taken it. However, the consequence was that the door was left unlocked and someone used that opportunity to their advantage.

    That lack of respect for another's property should be put to them directly. If the teens want to join in with adult activities such as a farbrengen then they need to behave as responsible adults and make amends for their mistakes.

  4. I like number 4.

    However, you should surprise them ... and then invite them to eat some of the goodies you brought. Make sure there is brownies, sodas, potato kugel etc. Then have a fabrengen! Make up that some more chabadniks show up later and do the singing and dancing bit with them.

    I think that would be what Rabbi Grossman would do. I like his style. Remember, these are Jewish youth, without good direction and a good home life. Here's your opportunity to do some REAL kiruv!

  5. #3 is ridiculous.... you can't do that.

    How about making sure you have real locks on doors in the future?

    Talk to the kids involved and tell them this time you are not pressing charges, or going to the police, but next time it will be a different scenario. Do they want a criminal record? No of course not. Make sure they understand the implications of breaking and entering, even into a shule.
    but do it nicely, they're just kids after all is said and done. Let them know they're welcome anytime and you'll forgive this episode if they undertake to never do it again.

  6. Make him fix the damage so he will be able to return to the shul otherwise he is 86'ed from the premises. Then feed him and love him up. He needs consequences. He is bright and knows weak pandering and permissiveness from accountability. He will push back. Tell him in a man-to-man way that if he wants to hang around (and you hope he will)he has to repair the damage. If he can destroy he can repair. If he can curse he can bless. He needs a father and a role model if he is going to be a father and a role model.

  7. One thing I wanted to add. The youth group idea is good. Maybe you could have the boy help you in some way with it. He obviously has leadership abilities but for the wrong thing. He can help lead the other kids into doing good. Just don't embarrass him.

    ~ Anonymous 10:27 PM

  8. #1 Police is a bad idea and waste of time. They shouldn't have broken into the shul but all they took was some soda. In any case the police won't do anything.

    #3 Sryup is a terrible idea. What if one of them has some kind of medical condition, and it provokes it, or is taking medication and it is counter-indicated.

    #4 Is the best idea. Show them some love. When you have built some trust, then address the issue, calmly and kindly. That it is unacceptable but let them know that you want to give them a chance.

    As for the lock, in any case you'll have to change it, because even if they give the key back to you, they could have a double.

    When I started reading I thought that maybe they had stolen the sifrei Torah for drug money. To me the story sounds quite harmless. They didn't have anywhere to hang out, so they went to the shul. And it made me wonder why no-one was responsible for the key that it was just left lying around. I also found it strange that the person who found them "chased them out". Why didn't he talk to them? I have worked with troubled teens and you'd be amazed at how far a little bit of love and respect goes. Obviously there have to be boundaries too. But wouldn't you want someone to give your kids a second chance if they needed it. I would avoid talking to their parents too if you want to build trust with them. It sounds to me that they are bored and have nowhere to go.

    I also recommend having better security in the shul, especially for valuables.

  9. I like the last anonymous idea, also you could change the locks, place some nice goodies at the door with a note of compassion and offer a friendship. But also make them know if G-d willing another opportunity arises they need Teshuvah. And Yeah start that youth group. every child at any age needs to be looked out for buy all of us. Shalom

  10. What does rabbi advice?

    It is unfortunate that someone suggested #3. Besides being liable with a serious offence (if just saying a few well-deserved words destroyed the life of Fuchs, imagine what it can be like to cause actual physical damage) you can even kill someone that way. Imagine someone with other diseases ingest that? Or someone allergic to it? Please remark this to the people who suggested.

    My opinion is that we don't know what happened, but valuable things are not supposed to be left unattended. Nobody could stay in the synagogue for the evening? After Shabbat, you'd make sure their effort would not be at a loss. Or ask a nonjew. Nothing bad happened, and it might have; and not only these kids (assuming it was them, which we are not 100% sure), but anyone could have entered.

  11. Do what you do best, Akiva, even bring in one of your kids (if that's feasible). Invite them for Shabbat!

    Make a Kiruv tsunami in Beit Shemesh, so it hits the media, show them how great the frummies are! Here's your opportunity to make that Kiddush HaShem! Where is Nati in all this?

  12. You're an Hassid, so I think that you should at least try number 4 before anything else.

  13. Whatever you do, I think consequences are extremely important in helping to shape good behavior. Idea #3 is awful, and it is sneaky and harmful. I believe discipline shows caring. I'd have the teens clean up the shul under supervision wherever it might need cleaning up, firmly tell them that a second offense will land them in a lot of trouble, and then reach out to them in a positive way.

  14. Akiva, get the local haredi goon squad to pay them a visit.

    Really, don't do #3 at all. You are liable for if God forbid something goes wrong. The Israeli police are what you should do. I know the hatred and mistrust in them by the frum community, but since their teaching have not taught them right from wrong but wear an outfit, they need to be taught respect.

    Good luck in the broken system. It's only going to get worse.

  15. #4 but privately take the leader aside and speak to him. if he and the others can do a clean up 'privately' w/o being exposed, maybe saving face will make them want to come back b'ahavah?

  16. I posted the eighth comment above and have read some of the subsequent commments. I reallly hope that you don't take a heavy hand with them. They didn't do anything that terrible. For some reason Hashem brought these teens into your life. I hope that you use the opportunity well. It's almost as if Hashem is testing you in your own area: meaning, you stand all day at the Kotel bringing Jews closer to Him and to Torah (which is a wonderful thing) and now Hashem is taking your kiruv into more challenging terrain. As if at the Kotel it's easy, anyone who is going there feels some connection, so it's not exactly a "cold sales call", but here you have some Jews who on the surface are uninterested and Hashem wants to see if you are up to the challenge.

    Behatzlacha, hope to here the continuation of the story.


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