Authorities Probe Synagogue Fires

Monday, October 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — All the teachings about anti-Semitism couldn't prepare Dawn Marmor for what happened to her temple.

Her husband Michael and eldest daughter Rebecca, 15, returned from Shabbat services a few hours before firefighters were called to Temple Beth El to put out a blaze that stirred fears of religious hatred.

``To me it's shocking that this kind of thing still goes on,'' Marmor told the Syracuse Herald-American. ``It's so scary to me that there's someone who hates that much.''

Hundreds of investigators pored over the synagogue damage Sunday as suspicions about the fire's origins heightened amid the turmoil in the Middle East.

But U.S. Attorney Daniel French urged caution in casting blame. Authorities said they were not ruling out the use of an accelerant but were not ready to say what caused the blaze.

``People shouldn't jump to any conclusions,'' he said. ``We don't have enough information. There is going to be concern until we can determine if this is an isolated event.''

Flames raced through a first-floor business office at Temple Beth El late Friday. Structural damage prevented investigators from entering that area of the building until Sunday morning, French said.

The temple, located in an upscale residential neighborhood, was not occupied when the fire broke out.

The fire occurred at the start of a weeklong Jewish festival celebrating the fall harvest and commemorating the desert wanderings of the Hebrews during the Exodus.

On Saturday morning, a fire at a synagogue in St. Paul, Minn., destroyed a temporary wooden structure erected to celebrate the festival. The Adath Israel Orthodox Synagogue's exterior suffered some fire damage and its interior was damaged by smoke and soot.

Investigators said it was arson.

``This was an anti-Semitic incident,'' said Stephen Silberfarb, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. He said he couldn't speculate about whether the arson was connected to the disorder in the Middle East. ``We don't know what the facts are.''

Agent Jeff Brzozowski of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said no one had claimed responsibility and the agency had yet to rule the fire a hate crime.

Weekend services at Adath Israel were held as planned.

Last week, an arson blaze gutted part of a synagogue under construction in Harrisburg, Pa., on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. And in New York City, bottles were thrown at the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel on Oct. 8, breaking a glass front door. In Chicago, two Jews were attacked in separate incidents Thursday in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood.