A pair of hooded armed robbers tried unsuccessfully to hold up a Chasidic synagogue in Upper Park Heights last Friday night, Jan. 24, shortly after the conclusion of Shabbat services.
The gunmen entered the Khal Chassidim of Baltimore synagogue, at 6004 Park Heights Ave., around 7 p.m. and pointed a weapon at a worshiper, Rabbi Zalman Spitezki. (Khal Chassidim was founded in 2015 by approximately 20 Chasidic families who moved to the area from Monsey, N.Y. The synagogue is home to the Baltimore Kollel, a study institute for married Torah scholars.)
“I was just sitting there after prayers, and I stayed a little longer to study,” said Rabbi Spitezki, who belongs to Chabad of Park Heights but attends Friday night services at Khal Chassidim. “Everyone had left the shul left but one other guy. For some reason, I picked up my head and saw an African-American young man pointing a gun at me. He was just standing there. It was very scary and shocking. It felt unreal — is this really happening? So I had to act quickly.”
Rabbi Spitezki said the suspect, who was wearing a mask and hood, did not say a single word to him.
“I figured, ‘Either do nothing or fight for your life.’ So I lunged at him,” Rabbi Spitezki said. “I was afraid he would pull the trigger, but instead thank God he turned around and ran off.
“After that, I was hyperventilating and ran across the street and knocked on the door of the kollel and called the police and Shomrim [a community patrol group],” he said. “They came very quickly.”
Images of the suspects were obtained from surveillance video. They are also suspects in two other robberies in the Northwest Baltimore area, according to Baltimore Police Department officials — one in the 5900 block of Park Heights Avenue near Glen Avenue, and the other in the 5900 block of Clover Road.
The Belgian-born Rabbi Spitezki, 36, is a father of five and director of Chabad on Call, a local organization that provides spiritual, social, logistical and emotional support for patients at Baltimore area medical centers. He also teaches at Cheder Chabad of Baltimore, a school in Upper Park Heights.
A couple of days before the hold-up attempt, Rabbi Spitezki said he took a self-protection training course at Cheder Chabad given by Security Tactical LLC, a Baltimore-based security, tactical training and private investigation company.
“They told us, ‘You’ve got to do something [during an emergency situation],’ and they showed us some steps,” he said. “A lot of people just let it happen to them. But they got it into my head that you’ve got to either hide or take everything you have and fight back. It made me prepared and aware. People need to know what to do in these situations. It can be lifesaving.”
Rabbi Spitezki, who moved to Baltimore from Brooklyn, N.Y., three-and-a-half years ago, said he never previously had a gun pointed at him. But he said the recent anti-Semitic attacks in Monsey, Pittsburgh, Jersey City, N.J., and Poway, Calif., flashed through his mind during the altercation last Friday night.
“I hope this can serve as a wake-up call for our community, and shuls to keep doors locked at all times” he said. “It’s time that we try not to sit back and let it happen. I hope this is a wake-up call for everyone.”
Since the incident, Rabbi Spitezki said some community members have hailed him as a hero.
“I”m not Superman, but I do hope this inspires others to act in a way that is beneficial to the Jewish community,” he said. “There was a miraculous aspect of this all to me, and I thank God for it.”
The police reportedly have increased patrols in the area and ask citizens with information to call 410-396-2466 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7Lockup.