Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco (Photo/Flickr user DoNotClick)
Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco (Photo/File)

‘Smash and grab’ attempt at Emanu-El rattles S.F. synagogue community

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Staff and clergy at Congregation Emanu-El were on heightened alert this week after an unusual break-in at the historic San Francisco synagogue.

Image of suspect from Emanu-El security footage
Image of suspect from Emanu-El security footage

Saturday evening around sundown, a man was seen on the synagogue’s surveillance video breaking into the shul, according to David Goldman, Emanu-El’s executive director. He said it appeared to be a “smash and grab” burglary attempt, based on a review of the video footage and information from the alarm system.

Police were notified of an intruder by Emanu-El’s security system, which automatically alerts 911 to a break-in. However the suspect fled before officers from the San Francisco Police Department arrived.

“You can never quite tell, but it doesn’t look like any Emanu-El property is missing,” Goldman said, noting that SFPD conducted two security sweeps of the synagogue over the weekend and a third Monday morning, finding nothing amiss and only “minimal damage” done. The method used to break into the synagogue was not disclosed.

SFPD did not respond to J.’s request for information.

Approximately 500 families were notified Saturday evening that the synagogue’s religious school would be canceled on Sunday as a result of the intrusion.

“Coming so close to the High Holidays, we wanted to act in an abundance of caution,” Goldman said.

When approximately 1,000 worshippers come to Emanu-El for Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur services this week, the damage from the break-in won’t be noticeable, Goldman said, adding that the synagogue always bolsters its security protocols during the High Holidays and will “certainly continue the level of high vigilance.”

Synagogue leaders at Emanu-El, a Reform congregation dating to the Gold Rush era whose Lake Street temple was dedicated in 1926, said it is the first break-in they knew of.

“When I got the message, my first reaction was [it’s] another false alarm,” Goldman said, as the alarm system is robust and highly sensitive, prone to false alarms.

His reaction quickly changed to worry that the break-in, coming during the High Holidays, was motivated by antisemitism. Fortunately, no evidence suggests such a motive beyond a “routine burglary attempt,” he said.

The synagogue’s staff is now reviewing whether any security upgrades are needed.

“Every time we have a security incident, it’s an opportunity to review the system and see what changes can be made,” Goldman said. “We will do that here as well.”

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Emma Goss.(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.