NEW YORK (Sep. 18)
Two youngsters, one 12 and the other 15 years old, were taken into custody early Sunday morning on suspicion of arson and vandalism against a Brooklyn synagogue.
Orthodox Congregation Rabbinical Institute Sharai Torah in the Midwood section was broken into about midnight Saturday by intruders who set a series of fires around the building and spray painted 15 swastikas and obscenities on the walls.
Five and probably all six of the congregation’s Torah scrolls were desecrated and burned. One may be missing.
The incident evoked memories of Nazi attacks on synagogues in Germany in the 1930s. It was swiftly denounced by national and local Jewish community leaders and city officials, including Mayor Edward Koch and Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward.
Rabbi Max Schreier, president of the Rabbinical Council of America and religious leader of the Avenue N Jewish Center, also in the Midwood section, declared, “This terrible act of ruthless vandalism, the likes of which have not been seen since the Holocaust, comes as a shock to a Jewish community which has tried to foster good community relations.
“It shows us the need for vigilance to safeguard religious freedom in this country,” Schreier said.
A VICIOUS ATTACK
Police said the two suspects have been released in custody of their parents, pending an appearance in family court. Their identities were not revealed because of their age. The police would not say whether the youngsters were residents of the neighborhood or outsiders.
Rabbi Hillel David, religious leader of the congregation, could not be reached Sunday for comment.
The attack on the synagogue was ferocious, according to police and others at the scene. The charred remains of the Torah scrolls indicate they were pulled out of the cedar-paneled Ark, their ornamented velvet coverings ripped off and the scrolls unrolled on the floor, stamped on and set afire.
Fires were set on the main floor and spread to the second floor of the two attached buildings, once private residences which contain the sanctuary, classrooms and other facilities of the congregation.
No immediate estimate of the damage was available. There were conflicting accounts. One said the fire caused extensive interior structural damage. Another said it did little damage to the building, which has been closed.
According to some members of the congregation, the destroyed Torah scrolls represent a loss of $25,000 each. City Councilman Noach Deer, who represents the district, said funeral services for the Torah would be held Sunday afternoon. According to Jewish tradition, desecrated scrolls must be placed in a coffin and buried.
The attack on the synagogue, only a few days before Yom Kippur, sent shock waves through the Jewish community in Midwood and the entire city.
Because a house of worship was the target, the attack was declared a bias incident, and a special police and fire department task force was set up to conduct the investigation.
Police said they were not aware of any previous incidents in the quiet middle-class neighborhood, which is heavily populated by Jews. But one member of the congregation claimed that unidentified people have pelted the synagogue buildings with eggs.
The fact that the synagogue buildings resemble two family homes common to the block and have no signs indicating they are houses of worship led some residents to believe the perpetrators are local people.