Arson suspected in fire that damaged historic NY synagogue

A massive fire that severely damaged the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue in Manhattan was likely an act of arson.

A huge fire that severely damaged the historic, 167-year-old Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side on Sunday appears to have been arson.

There were no injuries.

Police sources said three people, believed to be minors, were spotted on surveillance footage fleeing the building as it burst into flames.

An eyewitness corroborated the report, telling fire officials he saw three people running off the premises as the fire began.

New York Police Department’s chief of detectives, Robert Boyce, told reporters that the surveillance video is being used as part of the investigation.

“We do think it’s arson. We were able to recover the video. We’re looking at it now,” Boyce said on Tuesday.

He made no comment on the nature of the arson or whether he suspected it was a hate crime.

The fire is believed to have been ignited from within the synagogue. The Gothic-style edifice, which was built in 1850 and once housed the city’s oldest Orthodox Jewish congregation, is almost completely destroyed. It had recently undergone extensive preservation work.

The building originally belonged to a Baptist church but was purchased in 1885 for the synagogue, which closed in 2007.

Holly Kaye, who worked for several years to preserve the historic building, said she does not suspect the fire was the result of a hate crime or anti-Semitism. Trespassers have repeatedly broken into the site in recent weeks, she noted.

“It seems like it was malicious nonsense from kids playing around,” said Kaye, founder of the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy.

By: World Israel News Staff
JNS.org contributed to this report.