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Golders Green mourns as Jerusalem synagogue massacre 'brings terror to our doorstep'

PUBLISHED: 07:30 20 November 2014

Michelle Hirschfield and her late cousin Avraham Shmuel Goldberg at his home in Har Nof in September 2013

Michelle Hirschfield and her late cousin Avraham Shmuel Goldberg at his home in Har Nof in September 2013

Archant

It was 7 o'clock in the morning when barrister Michelle Hirschfield first heard the news of a bloody synagogue massacre in Jerusalem and feared the worst for her cousin.

Avraham Shmuel Goldberg was killed in the Jerusalem Synagogue masacreAvraham Shmuel Goldberg was killed in the Jerusalem Synagogue masacre

She immediately texted Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, who for 20 years lived in Golders Green near to her Hampstead Garden Suburb home and who she had grown up with, asking “Are you ok, let me know?”.

She never received a reply. Three hours later her sister called from Israel to confirm that Avraham, 68, a respected community figure in Golders Green, was one of four men slaughtered as they prayed at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in the Har Nof neighbourhood of West Jerusalem.

Two Palestinian cousins, armed with meat cleavers and at least one gun, had hacked at worshippers before being shot dead by police early on Tuesday morning.

“I saw the building on the news and my heart missed a beat,” Ms Hirschfield told the Ham&High. “Later the phone rang. My sister was in tears and I said ‘I know what you’re going to say’, and she said ‘Yes, Avraham’s been killed’.”

His wife and six children have been left “devastated and horrified” by the sheer “waste of a life”, she said.

The 63-year-old barrister has spoken out as she does not want her cousin to become a faceless victim of violent extremists.

“This has really brought a terrible situation to my doorstep,” she said. “I just don’t want him to be known as just another fatality. I want people to know that he’s an upright person, a good man, all he was doing was going to the synagogue to say his prayers and he shouldn’t be gunned down in the prime of life.”

Born in Liverpool, the descendent of Russian immigrants, Avraham was a chemical engineer who organised pharmaceutical conferences all over the world.

He moved to Golders Green in the early 1970s, married Bryna Sobel, who was raised in Hampstead Garden Suburb and was a teacher at Menorah Primary School, and they had six children. The family lived in Leeside Crescent, Temple Fortune, and attended Etz Chaim Synagogue in Bridge Lane.

“Within his community Avraham was very respected, he taught a lot, he learned,” said Ms Hirschfield, who lives in Church Mount.

In 1991 the family moved to Israel where his cousin says Avraham felt safe.

“I don’t think anybody thought he was at risk,” she said.

She described the suburb of Har Nof where he lived as “a very peaceful little town”. In fact she believes it was Arab Israeli integration there that may have led to the doors of the synagogue being opened.

“I’ve heard direct from the family that the killer, the perpetrator, actually worked as a caretaker in the synagogue,” she said. “It was an inside job.

“So any Jewish person there who’s peacefully at prayer - and that’s the awful thing, these people went to pray, no guns, nothing - there’s security outside and they see this Arab man, they all know him.

“Nobody’s going to say there’s a stranger here.”

Avraham’s funeral was held before sunset on Tuesday, in line with Jewish custom.

Avromi Freilich, cantor of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue in Norrice Lea, who knew the family well, paid tribute to Avraham.

“He was an upright man in every sense of the word, extremely modest and sincere,” he said. “He possessed a very warm smile that was enough to light up a room.

“Everyone has been taken aback. The Jewish people beats with one heart and our hearts have been broken.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband was among national and international figures who condemned the attack.

“People in Golders Green will be particularly horrified by this barbaric act of terrorism,” he said. “My thoughts are with the family and friends of Avraham Goldberg and all the victims of this appalling attack.”

Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer said: “The murders in Jerusalem were shocking not least because the victims were at prayer. Friends and family of Avraham Goldberg have my support and sympathy.”

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