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Baltimore rabbi feared at first that armed robbery in synagogue was an anti-Semitic attack

Surveillance video of attempted robbery at K’hal Chasidim of Baltimore.

Rabbi Zalman Spitezki said he feared the worst when a masked gunman pointed a firearm at him in the K’hal Chasidim synagogue in Baltimore on Friday.

The director of Chabad on Call, which provides assistance to the area’s hospitals, Spitezki said that when the suspect entered the Park Heights Avenue synagogue around 7 p.m. Friday, he thought it could be another in a string of anti-Semitic attacks that have gripped the country in recent months.

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“I felt like ... he’s going to pull the trigger any second,” Spitezki said. “I got to do something. Either I die or I fight.”

Police say two suspects entered the Northwest Baltimore synagogue at about 7 p.m. and attempted to rob Spitezki. The rabbi said that while it was close to Sabbath, the congregation had already left the building and only he and one other person were still inside when the suspect entered.

Spitezki said he leaped at the man with a gun, who didn’t fire, but tried to stop him and push him away.

The man then fled, said Spitezki, who added that he never saw the second suspect. Surveillance footage shows both suspects running from the synagogue after a short period.

“It’s scary. They have no limits at this point,” Spitezki said. “It’s becoming dangerous to be in a house of worship.”

Police say the two are suspects in a string of three robberies in the area. Investigators believe they were also responsible on the 5900 block of Park Heights Ave., a block from the synagogue, as well on the 5900 block of Clover Road.

At the time, Spitezki said he was fearful that the gunman was there to kill him and others because he didn’t say anything to the rabbi during the ordeal.

“If he was asking for money, I would be much calmer. I could tell him I don’t carry any money [on Sabbath],” he said. “But there was nothing. There was no conversation.”

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The rabbi said, knowing what he knows now and that police believe the incident was part of a string of robberies and not a deliberate attack, he’d probably have acted differently toward the suspect. He said it’s possible the suspects had no idea the building was a house of worship until they were inside as there are no outside markings or signs that the single-story building is a synagogue.

But he said it was endemic of what he believes is a more “brazen” class of criminals in Baltimore.

“It’s frightening that we’re at this point where they’re becoming that brazen to walk into a house of worship and still do that,” he said. “I think that there needs to be a heightened or enhanced or urgent security for houses of worship in our community in the Park Heights corridor.”

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