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Israeli Reform kindergarten severely damaged by firebomb

JERUSALEM, Sept. 2 (JTA) — Firebombings of Jewish schools occasionally occur in Europe. But no one expected kindergarten children in Israel looking forward to their first day of school to be affected by such an attack. Sunday night a firebomb was thrown through the window of a kindergarten operated by the Reform movement in Mevasseret Zion, a suburb of Jerusalem. Police said they have not yet found any suspects. The attack took place at a time of heightened religious tensions in Israel, where the non-Orthodox movements have been calling for an increased role in the country’s religious life, which until now has been under the sole control of the Orthodox. The private school, which is located in a rented apartment, was almost completely destroyed. It serves about 40 children between the ages of 3 and 5, and had been scheduled to open its doors Monday, the first day of Israel’s new school year. Makeshift classes were held this week in the home of one of the children’s parents. Hannah Sorek, chairwoman of the Reform congregation Kehillat Mevasseret Zion, believes that the firebombing was a hate crime. “There are people who don’t want us here,” she said. In New York, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations, charged that remarks by Orthodox officials “have contributed to a climate of hate that makes such attacks possible.” He specifically referred to comments made earlier on the day of the attack by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau who, Yoffie said, compared Reform Jews to Arab suicide bombers. “Such words open the door to the grim possibilities of terror and violence,” Yoffie said. Meanwhile, Education Minister Zevulun Hammer, of the National Religious Party, said he would consider making funds available to the kindergarten. Hammer, who also serves as religious affairs minister, said that regardless of affiliation, no educational institution should be the target of an attack.