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Judge Defends and Leaders Denounce Sentence Given to Synagogue Vandal

A 16-year-old who torched a Brooklyn synagogue during last year’s High Holy Days was sentenced, as expected, to four months of weekend jail stays, 200 hours of community service and five years’ probation.

The sentence drew immediate criticism from Brooklyn Jewish leaders and public officials, who protested outside the courthouse that the sentence was too light and did nothing to discourage anti-Semitic acts.

Speaking from the bench, State Supreme Court Justice Thaddeus Owens said that since proposing the sentence in January, he had become the victim of “an avalanche” of hate mail and that he and his family members had been harassed.

Lewis Franceschi pleaded guilty to all counts in last September’s attack on Congregation Rabbinical Institute Shaarei Torah in Brooklyn’s Mid-wood section. Six Torah scrolls were unrolled and destroyed in the incident, which took place on the Saturday night between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

A second youth, age 11, is being charged in family court, but because of his age neither his name nor charge has been disclosed.

At Wednesday’s sentencing, Franceschi read a statement saying he would like to “apologize to everyone and especially the Jewish community for the terrible thing I did during the Jewish High Holy Days.”

Franceschi will begin serving his weekend sentences June 23. In addition, he must finish high school and write an essay about the German persecution of Jews between 1933 and 1945.

In sentencing the youth, Owens denied charges by some Jewish leaders that he was anti-Semitic. Owens, who is black, said his own experiences growing up in Arkansas had sensitized him to discrimination against others.

Nevertheless, City Councilman Noach Dear, who represents Mid-wood, said he would continue to press for an investigation of Owens. Dear said the sentence “sends the wrong message out to anti-Semites.”

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