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As London burns, riots spread to Jewish communities

Passers-by glancing at looted stores in a London neighborhood, Aug. 9, 2011. (Creative Commons)

(JTA) – While some Jews in London marked Tisha b’Av on Tuesday by lamenting the burning of the Holy Temples on that day some two millennia ago, other London Jews watched as their city burned amid widespread rioting.

“Everyone is shocked,” Joel Braunold, a lifelong Londoner, told JTA in a phone interview just after leaving Tisha b’Av services Monday night. “People are angry and scared.”

Violent protests that broke out last Saturday following a deadly police shooting in the North London neighborhood of Tottenham quickly turned into riots, arson attacks and looting in neighborhoods this week all over the city in the worse civil unrest that London has seen in 25 years.

In some cases, the Jews reportedly weren’t just bystanders.

The Guardian reported that some members of Tottenham’s small Chasidic community — all that remains of a once-substantial Jewish community that earned its local soccer team the nickname “the Yids” — gathered to jeer police. A video posted on YouTube shows Orthodox men laughing and then scattering as a crowd of mounted police officers move in.

In another video, young Orthodox men can be seen handing out challah.

“When I saw Jewish people out tonight I was happy,” one protester told the Socialist Worker newspaper. “I thought, it’s not just us. They gave us bread.”

Most Jews, however, appear to be eager for a return to law and order. Local rabbis and the Shomrim Orthodox security service have warned Jewish community members to stay away from the riots, the UK Jewish Chronicle reported.

As the riots spread to Jewish areas of Stamford Hill and Golders Green, several Jewish-owned businesses were ransacked. Joelle Selt told JTA that her father’s general store was robbed at knifepoint by masked men, and a 71-year-old Jewish-owned store in Tottenham was looted Sunday morning, the Chronicle reported.

“They are tearing up their own community,” the store’s owner, Derek Lewis, said of the rioters, as reported in the Chronicle. “It’s tragic.”

At least two stabbings were reported Monday night in Stamford Hill, and clashes between rioters and police were reported in Golders Greer and Camden.

Linda W., a mother of three daughters who lives in London, contrasted the rioters disparagingly with the massive but nonviolent protests in Israel over high housing prices.

“It’s evident who raises the better man,” she wrote in an e-mail to JTA.

Linda said the Riot Act — a 1715 law that made it a felony for groups of 12 or more to refuse to disperse after being ordered to do so — should be returned to the books. The law was repealed in 1973.

“People want to enforce the law by any means necessary,” Braunold said. “They don’t care anymore; they just want the riots off the streets.”

The rioting began following the police shooting Aug. 4 in Tottenahm of a suspected drug dealer named Mark Duggan, and spread to young people in poorer neighborhoods. Many analysts have linked the riots to the weak economy, widespread unemployment and deep budget cuts that have hurt Britain’s poor.

“There are underlying causes,” Braunold said, “but first the rioting and hooliganism needs to stop. This brings out the worst characteristics in people, and they need to face the consequences.”