In the early hours of Sunday morning a gaggle of drunks stormed a synagogue in London’s ultra-Orthodox shtetl of Stamford Hill.
The marauders appear to have drifted out of a house party in the East London mish-mash of Victorian terraces and projects, home to at least 30,000 Hasidic Jews, when they ran across some Jews in the street.
Drunk, it seems, the young men set upon the young Hasids and chased them into the nearby synagogue hurling anti-Semitic abuse and waving their fists at them.
The Jews took refuge inside the synagogue, but the drunks were after them. They smashed the door of the prayer hall, tore up holy books, and there were shouts of “Kill the Jews” as they shattered windows and bayed for them to come outside.
Then the incident fizzled out. “I’m so sorry,” comically squawked a drunk girl in the group, trying to pull the boys off the Jews, “I’m so sorry.”
In one sense this is but a small and tawdry addition to the annals of anti-Semitism: drunks have been punching Jews for amusement for centuries. In the shtetl that the Jews of Stamford Hill have lovingly tried to recreate, such events were commonplace.
But this is exceptional for 21st century London: not for a generation has the base instinct, the drunken desire, of tanked up young men been to storm a synagogue.
Whatever exactly happened in Stamford Hill—and we are not entirely sure—the incident has not surprised British Jews. Ever since Israel’s summer 2014 war with Hamas and even before, many have have been repeating the ominous phrase, “There’s something in the air.”
There is a feeling that something else is creeping alongside the demonization of Israel in British public life, that Jews are yet again becoming a weird, subterranean target for those wishing to practice hate and express their atavistic urge for aggression and tribalism. That a growing obsession with “Zionist” crimes makes Jews vulnerable to sudden, flash floods of violence whenever tempers boil over in their vicinity.
Some have called this alarmist and paranoid. But when a bunch of drunken thugs take it upon themselves to go Jew-bashing on a Saturday night, when the sight of a black hat and payot engenders visceral rage, it’s hard not to feel like they have a point. After all, why else would a group of drunk young men attack a synagogue?
Related: A Polite Hatred