TORONTO (Mar. 2)
A Jewish man has been charged with an arson attack on a Canadian synagogue — days after he was interrogated in connection with fire damage at a synagogue in Phoenix.
Jonathan Bashinsky, 38, was arrested last Friday, two days after a fire caused minor damage to an exterior wall of the Conservative Or Shalom Synagogue in London, Ontario.
Minutes after dousing that fire, firefighters spotted smoke at the nearby Orthodox Beth Tefilah Synagogue and quickly extinguished a blaze which damaged a wooden fence.
Both fires were set on the morning of Feb. 25 by someone who ignited cardboard boxes filled with paper, twigs and a fire log.
“We’re investigating the second fire to see if we have enough evidence to lay another charge of arson,” said David Lucio, an inspector with the London City Police Force.
The London fires occurred only five days after Arizona police questioned Bashinsky as a prime suspect in a fire at the Orthodox Beth Joseph Synagogue in Phoenix in which some $3,000 worth of prayer books were destroyed.
Bashinsky was questioned because he fit the description of man who had visited the synagogue the day before and asked if he could use the mikvah, the ritual cleansing bath, and then pray in the synagogue’s sanctuary.
Rabbi Harris Cooperman said he approved the man’s request because he was “dressed the part” of an Orthodox man.
But after a local Jewish attorney, Michael Freeman, intervened on behalf of Bashinsky, the police questioning was halted.
London police already had been alerted about Bashinsky.
According to Lucio, police in Phoenix had contacted the London City Police to verify the validity of the identity that Bashinsky had given them via an Ontario driver’s license.
“They said, `If he is who he says he is, we should perhaps take some steps because he seems to be an individual out of control,'” Lucio said.
Several days before the London fires were set, police notified the city’s three congregations to be wary. The city’s Reform synagogue was not attacked.
“This gentleman needs help,” said Hillel Boroditsky, executive director of the London Jewish Federation. “It’s possible that what he did was a cry for help.”
(The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix contributed to this report.)