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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vandals Wreck Synagogue in Siberia

NOVOSIBIRSK, Western Siberia -- A newly rededicated synagogue in Siberia was vandalized, with Torahs thrown on the floor and swastikas and anti-Semitic writings scrawled on the walls and ceilings, Jewish leaders and police said Monday.

However, police downplayed the seriousness of the attack, with an investigator describing it as "kids having high jinks."

Jews in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk received the synagogue back from local authorities about a year ago, and a rabbi arrived from Israel 10 days ago to help the community get back on its feet, said Rabbi Berel Lazar, who leads the Lubavitch movement of Hasidic Jews in Russia.

"It was the first time in many years they had a rabbi there. They just celebrated Purim and had an incredible turnout, about 1,000 people," he said in Moscow.

Police investigator Alexander Osimtsev said vandals covered the walls and ceilings of the synagogue with swastikas and the letters RNE, an acronym designating an increasingly vocal neo-Nazi movement, Russian National Unity.

But no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred Sunday night or early Monday morning.

No one was hurt in the attack, which was discovered Monday, and police said they weren't sure whether they would open a criminal case.

"Nothing terrible happened here," Osimtsev said. "We've had much more serious incidents today, such as a murder and a robbery, and this is just some kids having high jinks."

Expressions of anti-Semitism and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues have become increasingly frequent in Russia in recent years.

Russia's chief rabbi said Tuesday that the attack was a sign of Russian leaders' indifference to anti-Semitism.

"This act of vandalism does not surprise us," Adolf Shayevich said. "It is a demonstration of all-around indifference, first of all, of the indifference among the authorities toward anti-Semitic rhetoric and acts."

Two Communist lawmakers, State Duma security committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin and General Albert Makashov, have made virulent anti-Semitic statements, and despite strong international pressure, the Communist Party only grudgingly issued a vague denunciation of their comments. A recent march in Moscow by RNE members has prompted talk of stepping up the fight against political extremism, but there have been few signs of real action.

"If there was a desire, they would have been able to rein in those people," Shayevich said, adding that the rise of anti-Semitism has social roots. "People are unemployed and unpaid.They are just letting the steam out in this way."

On top of the new outburst of anti-Semitic statements, a collapsing economy means that for the first time in nearly a decade, emigration from Russia to Israel is starting to climb.

Though relatively modest, the number of Jews leaving for Israel in January, 1,774, was 70 percent higher than the 975 who left in January of last year.

While many Jews want to remain in Russia, there is a growing realization that they will have to fight the old battles against anti-Semitism all over again.

Before Monday, Siberia had been "the one place that's been fairly quiet," Lazar said.

Lazar said the attack was the worst since a bomb exploded near a Lubavitch synagogue in Moscow last May, badly damaging the building and injuring two people.