Firebombing of Synagogue Seen As Plot to Drive Jews out of East Side

Police are continuing their search for the person or persons responsible for firebombing a synagogue on the Lower East Side early Friday morning. Mayor John V. Lindsay directed Police Commissioner Donald Cawley “to make every effort to apprehend those who committed this sickening act and to provide additional security in the area.”

Rabbi Nison Alpert, spiritual leader of the 75-year-old Chevra Bachurim B’nai Ahavas Achim synagogue, reported that the sanctuary had been totally destroyed and that damage to the edifice is estimated at more than $100,000. According to the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty and the United Jewish Council of the East Side this was the 16th incident of arson or major vandalism involving a Jewish house of worship on the Lower East Side during the last two years.

Lindsay condemned “this atrocious act” and urged any New Yorker having information as to the identity of those who committed this act to call the local police department’s Ninth Precinct. He pledged that “we will not rest until” the fire-bombers have been apprehended. “Rabbi Alpert and the congregants of his synagogue have long resided in this area which is rich with Jewish tradition and culture,” Lindsay stated. “Their right and the right of every New Yorker to attend prayer services with ease and security must be upheld.”

DELIBERATE AND PREMEDITATED

Rabbi Alpert, who is also the president of the Jewish Community Council of the Lower East Side, said that the synagogue’s total destruction “leaves us nowhere to go, nowhere.” Rabbi Joseph Langer, executive director of the United Jewish Council, stated that the firebombing was “deliberate and premeditated.” Asked if he could attribute a motive for the act, Rabbi Langer told the JTA: “I would say that this is part of a systematic plot to chase Jews out of the neighborhood, to frighten them into leaving.”

Rabbi Alpert expressed a similar view, adding, “We were the last synagogue in this area to hold daily services. Now there are none.” He noted that worshippers on their way to and from services had been subjected to taunts and rock throwing from young people on the street.

MAY BE RELATED TO FUENTES ISSUE

Meanwhile, Jerome M. Becker, president of the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty, said his staff launched a private investigation of the incident and also affirmed that the Council’s preliminary findings “would seem to point in the direction of a systematic plot to obliterate the last vestiges of (Jewish) communal life from the Lower East Side.” He further stated, “We must utilize every agency of our city to make certain that the surviving remnants of our elderly Jews are permitted to live out their lives in dignity, safety and security.”

Rabbi Langer and several other residents in the neighborhood reported that prior to the fire bombing there was an attempt to crash a car into the building. While no one would say so officially there appeared to be some feeling in the Jewish community that this incident may be related to the current struggle over the issue of Luis Fuentes, the school superintendent who was recently ousted despite protests by the Puerto Rican community. Fuentes had been accused by a number of Jewish organizations of having uttered anti-Semitic remarks.

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