Thursday, April 24, 2008

FBI To Investigate Miami Beach Synagogue Fire as Hate Crime

The FBI will launch an investigation into whether a fire that destroyed a Miami Beach synagogue Tuesday was an act of arson.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., on Wednesday asked FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate if the fires at the Chabad House and another Miami Beach synagogue in October were hate crimes.

"We will do that," said Mueller, who was in Washington testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, of which Wasserman Schultz is a member.

Miami Beach firefighters were called to the Chabad House synagogue at 2401 Pinetree Drive at about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday to find the historic building, once home to the Miami Beach Women's Club, fully engulfed in smoke and flames.

The fire was out by the time the sun rose and Rabbi Zev Katz arrived. He found the inside of the building gutted. He took photographs of prayer books and prayer shawls tattered and burned.

Firefighters initially saw nothing to suggest arson, but the rabbi did, outside on the lawn. He found one of two rods that hold the synagogue's Torah, the holiest book of Judaism handled by congregants with ritual and care. It showed no signs of burn, though inside, the housing where it had been kept was destroyed.

The rabbi believes an arsonist stole the Torah and dropped one of its rods on the way out.

"I don't know the reason why this guy went into the synagogue, took the Torah and burned the shawl," said Katz. "I don't know if he hates Jews or if he's just meshugeh, as they say in Yiddish, crazy."
Here's hoping that they find out what caused the fire, and if it was indeed arson, that the perpetrators are caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Based on the evidence thus far, it would appear that it was a bias attack and someone purposefully moved the Torah scroll before destroying the synagogue.

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