After threats at synagogue, disbarred lawyer charged with hate crimes

On Tuesday, authorities charged Anatoly Smolkin with disturbing religious meetings and civil rights violations, both of which are hate crimes.


Anatoly Smolkin. Credit: BPD

A man police say went into a Berkeley synagogue and interrupted weekend services with antisemitic threats of violence has been charged with two hate crimes, according to court papers.

On Tuesday, the Alameda County district attorney’s office charged 37-year-old Anatoly Smolkin with disturbing religious meetings and civil rights violations, both of which are hate crimes, and disturbing the peace by offensive language. All three allegations are listed in court documents as misdemeanors.

According to police, shortly after noon on Aug. 7, Smolkin — a former San Francisco attorney who was disbarred in 2017 after a criminal conviction — entered Congregation Netivot Shalom, a synagogue at 1316 University Ave. (near Acton Street), and “threatened physical harm by yelling ‘call the police, Jews are going to pay for what you did to me'” and “You are all going to burn, Jews are going to burn in hell.”

The rant interrupted Saturday Shabbat services at the Berkeley synagogue and caused “fear and confusion on the part of the assembled members,” according to court papers.


Police said Smolkin then tried to enter the property of a nearby Jewish site in Berkeley — Chabad House, a community center at 1710 University Ave. (near McGee Avenue) — but was prevented from going inside. BPD arrested Smolkin outside Chabad shortly before 1 p.m.

It was unclear from court papers whether the hate crime charges against Smolkin related to both locations or only to what is alleged to have occurred at the Berkeley synagogue.

Smolkin, who has no permanent address, was initially in custody after his Aug. 7 arrest. He was released prior to Aug. 11 despite a documented history of stalking and mental illness.

Smolkin is scheduled for arraignment Oct. 7 at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland, according to court records online.

Earlier in life, Smolkin had graduated from UC Berkeley and then gone to law school at Northwestern University in Chicago, according to numerous media reports related to legal troubles that began nearly 10 years ago, in 2012, after Smolkin was fired from a tech start-up in San Francisco.

Smolkin became a licensed attorney in 2010, according to the California State Bar website, but was disbarred in 2017 due to a criminal conviction related to the firing.

As of mid-August, there had been 25 hate incidents reported in Berkeley in 2021, already more than twice as many as were reported throughout all of 2020. Six of the incidents this year were categorized by police as anti-Jewish, which is the largest grouping after anti-Asian incidents, with eight reports.

Last fall, the Berkeley City Council asked police and other city staffers to put a renewed focus on the subject, citing “an increase in the number of hate incidents and crimes” in the nation following Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

Earlier this year, in the wake of a disturbing uptick in crimes targeting Asian Americans, the Alameda County district attorney’s office also created a hotline to collect hate crime reports.

Emilie Raguso is Berkeleyside’s senior editor of news. Email: emilie@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: emraguso. Phone: 510-459-8325.