Bahai News -- JTA - Huge team assigned to arson check as Jewish school attacked near L.A.
Huge team assigned to arson check as Jewish school attacked near L.A.
By Tom Tugend
LOS ANGELES, May 9 (JTA) — A huge team has been assigned to investigate a spate of attacks on houses of worship in a Los Angeles suburb, but
so far they have few leads.
Some 150 police and fire department investigators, joined by federal agents, have been assigned to investigate
the attacks in Encino, in the San Fernando Valley.
After arson attacks on two synagogues and two other houses of worship in recent weeks,
a brick was thrown Thursday night through the window of the Deet Torah Educational Center.
That followed an attack early Wednesday
morning, when someone — apparently a single perpetrator — hurled an incendiary device through a stained glass window of the sanctuary of
Valley Beth Shalom, one of the city’s leading Conservative congregations.
The device landed only 10 feet from the ark holding five Torah
scrolls, and set fire to a carpet. The smoke triggered the automatic sprinklers, dousing the fire but causing some water damage.
Harold Schulweis, the congregation’s spiritual leader, praised the quick work of the custodians.
“Without any instructions, these men
and women, mainly Hispanic Catholics, rushed to the ark and carried the scrolls to safety,” he said.
Two days earlier, arson had
struck the nearby Iranian Synagogue, a storefront congregation, singeing the walls.
A passerby called the fire department, which prevented
further damage. No one could be reached at the synagogue.
The same day, a fire was set at the Baha’i Faith Community Center in the same
neighborhood. Two weeks earlier, the First Presbyterian Church of Encino sustained the most damage in a similar attack.
6:30 a.m. fire at Valley Beth Shalom, toddlers and their parents arrived for pre-school sessions a few hours later, and morning prayers
Due to the sanctuary damage, however, Shabbat services were to be held at another location, said Jeffrey Levine,
chairman of the synagogue’s board.
Assignment of the large police force, augmented by fire department investigators, FBI and other federal
agents indicated how seriously officials were taking the incidents.
At a press conference outside Valley Beth Shalom, Los Angeles Mayor
James Hahn pledged that the city and federal government would “not tolerate these acts of terrorism and hatred.”
Authorities “will use
all necessary resources to protect our houses of worship, and the perpetrators will be brought to justice,” he said.
evidence seemed to indicate that a single individual had set all four fires, Fire Chief William Bamattre said.
Bamattre said there was
no evidence that the fires might have been set in connection with the Jewish community’s observances of Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel
Police Chief Bill Bratton termed the investigation a top priority for his department, and asked the public to report
any leads or suspicious activities around synagogues and churches.
Councilman Jack Weiss, whose district encompasses the institutions
attacked, proposed that the city council post a $25,000 reward for the apprehension and conviction of the arsonist. The bill was passed
Schulweis observed that he was touched by the concern shown by neighbors of the synagogue. A representative of the
Wells Fargo bank branch across the street showed up early in the morning to present a $5,000 check to Levine.
There also have been a
series of calls from the district attorney and other municipal and county officials.
“No peddler of hate can divide this
community,” said Rabbi Allen Freehling, representing the L.A. County Human Relations Committee.
Gennady Shtern, Valley director of the
Anti-Defamation League, was on the scene and said the ADL would make its full resources available to help law enforcement and Jewish
On Thursday evening, religious and civic leaders addressed a community-wide interfaith service at a Catholic church
near Valley Beth Shalom.
The San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council has designated May 16-18 as a weekend of reconciliation for all area
congregations, and announced a fund to repair damage from the attacks.
Donations and equipment should be sent to the Valley Interfaith
Council, 10824 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Check should indicate “synagogue support fund” on the memo line.
©Copyright 2003, JTA Global News Service of the Jewish People
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