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Conservative Synagogue Torched, Prompting More Calls for Tolerance

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Images of Holocaust-era synagogue torchings were invoked after a Conservative shul in Jerusalem was set on fire over the weekend.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak led a call for greater tolerance in Israeli society after vandals hurled gasoline-soaked flaming rags into the synagogue Saturday night, setting ablaze sections of the main sanctuary and destroying several chairs and prayer books.

Nobody was injured in the attack at Kehillat Ya’ar Ramot, and the synagogue’s three Torah scrolls were unharmed.

Police have not arrested any suspects.

Shmuel Ben-Ruby, spokesman for the Jerusalem police, said an investigation had been launched.

“We do not think this is the start of a wave of attacks on the Conservative and Reform movements,” he added.

The attack follows two recent unsolved attacks on Conservative synagogues.

Police were unable to find those responsible for attempting to burn down the front door of Kehillat Ya’ar Ramot just a few weeks ago — an attack that the Conservative movement blamed on fervently Orthodox Jews.

Last week, the windows of the Eshel Avraham Synagogue in Beersheba were smashed.

And a year ago, the Ya’ar Ramot Synagogue was sprayed with graffiti promising to “turn your Purim into Tisha B’Av,” referring to a Jewish holiday of joy and one of sorrow.

Barak said the latest incident is “an awful act that causes every Jew to shudder.”

It is “seven times more shocking when it occurs in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish People,” the premier added.

Rabbi Michael Melchior, minister for Israeli society and world Jewish communities, said after the attack, “Intolerance that leads to violence is a worrisome symptom in Israeli society.

“Just as we protest attacks on synagogues across Europe, we must be forceful in our condemnation of this act and exhaust all measures necessary to bring the perpetrators to justice,” he added.

Rabbi Andy Sacks, director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, was passing near the synagogue just minutes after the blaze began.

He entered the building and fell to his stomach to avoid the thick smoke.

“My first reaction was to see if the fire was near the Torah scrolls, and at the same time thoughts of the Holocaust flashed through my head,” he told JTA.

“I have seen synagogues that have been burned, but have never been inside one as it burned.”

On Sunday, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, broke the silence from Orthodox officials on the issue. He, too, invoked imagery from the Holocaust to hammer his point home.

“We have already learned that book burning, in several places in Europe, preceded the burning of people,” he told Israel Radio.

Lau said he “condemned in a sharp and aggressive way” all violence, including attacks on “a building dedicated to prayers of one or another” religious stream.

“This has no connection to our opinions on the issue of the Judaic streams,” he said. “This is related to the fundamental thing on the top of our agenda — the war against violence.”

Sacks, who earlier in the day had complained about the failure of Israel’s political or Orthodox leaders to condemn the attack, said Lau’s statements marked the first time a chief rabbi strongly condemned violence against the non-Orthodox streams.

“It’s a welcome development,” said Sacks. “I hope that his words will send a message to those who consider violence a legitimate means of achieving their goals.”

Sacks also called on Orthodox leaders to meet with their non-Orthodox counterparts to launch a dialogue to promote tolerance.

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