Anatoly Smolkin (Photo/Berkeley Police) interrupted a Shabbat service at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley (Photo/File).
Anatoly Smolkin (Photo/Berkeley Police) interrupted a Shabbat service at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley (Photo/File).

Ranting disbarred lawyer disrupts Berkeley synagogue service, then goes looking for Chabad rabbi

A disbarred attorney previously convicted for stalking was arrested Saturday after entering Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley and shouting out an antisemitic and aggressive screed, then proceeding to the nearby Chabad house, where he asked for the rabbi.

Berkeley police arrested 37-year-old Anatoly Smolkin on a hate crime charge for “willfully threatening a person based on their perceived characteristics,” the department said in a press release.

According to reports and interviews, Smolkin walked into the sanctuary of Netivot Shalom on University Avenue in the middle of morning Shabbat services.

Ken Schnur
Ken Schnur

“He came in, he yelled a little bit, he was asked to leave and he left,” said the synagogue’s executive director Ken Schnur, who was not present but watched the security footage. He said Smolkin referred to “Jewish doctors and lawyers” ruining his life.

Smolkin was allowed in through the locked gates into the courtyard under the assumption that he was there for services. The doors to the sanctuary were open. Once Smolkin entered and started shouting, congregants immediately realized something was wrong and came forward to intercept him.

About 50 congregants were at the service, which was lay-led.

“It’s unsettling, but we’re really lucky that no one was hurt,” Schnur said.

A congregant called the police, by which time Smolkin had proceeded to the Chabad of Berkeley, also on University Avenue. According to Rabbi Yehuda Ferris, the center’s director, Smolkin spoke to a Chabad-affiliated person on the sidewalk outside the building. Smolkin asked for the rabbi and was told he wasn’t there, so Smolkin used an expletive.

Rabbi Yehuda Ferris
Rabbi Yehuda Ferris

“He did not come inside,” Ferris said. “We keep [the door] locked.”

Smolkin was arrested and taken to Santa Rita Jail but was no longer in custody by Tuesday, according to Berkeleyside.

It’s not the first time Smolkin has been involved with the law, nor the first time he’s made threats.

According to the California State Bar’s disciplinary records, between November 2011 and January 2012, Smolkin “engaged in a campaign of threats, harassment and intimidation by sending emails to victims.” The emails included “sexual violence and death threats,” the records say. He was convicted of 30 felonies and 17 misdemeanors involving 17 victims.

He was released from jail in 2017 but arrested that same year for violating probation after writing a delusional letter to the Solano district attorney’s office. However, in 2020 an appellate court found that a “reasonable listener” would not have understood the letter to be a true threat. In it, Smolkin said he was a Russian operative. “I will charge, but effectively sentence, the entire Solano County DA’s office with kidnapping punishable by death by Russian military firing squad,” he wrote. “It is clear to any rational person that I pose no threat to anybody.”

Ferris said that while Smolkin’s actions were disturbing, “We want to be welcoming. We don’t want to be Fort Knox. But there are crazy people out there.”

Schnur said the Saturday incident at Netivot Shalom, though brief, was “a wakeup call” regarding synagogue security.  He also said that Netivot’s security committee, of which he’s a member, bears responsibility for what happened. While the synagogue has security measures in place, some had lapsed as the pandemic wore on.

“It was our mistake in not immediately reinstating protocols that we had pre-Covid,” he said.

Rafael Brinner, director of community security at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, said security issues have evolved over the course of the pandemic.

“Now that we’re gathering in communal spaces again, we’re getting more requests for security training,” he told J. in an email. “If anything, people are more focused on the need for it after antisemitic attacks in LA and NYC in May and the unrest of the past year, not to mention the Zoombombings that sporadically disrupted online activities during the pandemic.”

In Berkeley, a man who last year was arrested and then convicted of a hate crime for vandalizing Temple Sinai in Oakland, was arrested again recently for violating the terms of his probation.

A swastika was found painted on Temple Sinai’s carved wooden door in Oakland, Oct. 18, 2020. (Photo/Courtesy Temple Sinai)
A swastika was found painted on Temple Sinai’s carved wooden door in Oakland, Oct. 18, 2020. (Photo/Courtesy Temple Sinai)

Zachary RunningWolf (also known as Zachary RunningWolf Brown and, according to court documentation, Freddie Lee Smith), served six months for the October hate crime and was released on probation. He was required to stay 100 yards away from Temple Sinai but in April was caught on camera nearby.

Smith, who regularly represents himself in court, said at the Aug. 5 hearing that his vandalizing of the synagogue was meant to draw attention to Catholic crimes against Native Americans; the crime for which he was convicted was the spray-painting of a swastika on the wooden doors of the synagogue.

His probation has been extended to July 2023 and he must now remain 300 yards away from Temple Sinai.