California Chabad synagogue torched, not being considered a hate crime

The police are not considering the deliberately set fire a hate crime.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A Chabad synagogue in San Jose, California was torched last week in an act not being considered a hate crime by the police.

Security footage caught the man setting the fire in the underground carport of the Orthodox combined house of prayer and Chabad center around 2AM Wednesday. The video also showed people walking by the flames and doing nothing.

The blaze was only reported five hours later by a garbage collector doing his rounds. By the time the fire was under control three hours later, the damage to the structure was complete.

It was a huge blow to the community, which had just finished renovating the building in August as its first religious center in time for the High Holy Days. Rabbi Mendel Weinfeld, who only began his tenure in the city two years ago, focused on the positive to the media.

“Thank God, nobody was here, thank God, everyone’s safe,” he told Channel 5 News the next day.  “God does everything for a reason. We might not know why. But we’re going to be stronger, we’re going to rebuild, we’re going to do so much more for the community at large,” he added.

The community could also take comfort from the fact that the synagogue’s most valuable possessions, its two Torah scrolls, were rescued by a firefighter who risked his life to get them from the unstable building after a community member explained their importance.

A GoFundMe campaign set up by another community member is already almost halfway to its $250,000 goal for the immediate rebuilding of the synagogue. One man, who contributed $100 on Tuesday, made a point on the donation page to say that “While I am not Jewish I resolutely oppose Anti-Semitism. It is very important for all people of good will to stand in solidarity with the Jewish people against this hatred.”

Those looking into the fire seemingly do not agree with the assumption of the motivation behind the crime, however.

The day after the fire, the San Jose Police Media Relations office already tweeted that “Our investigation determined that this was NOT a hate incident or racially motivated.”

Channel 5 reported that “it appears likely that [the fire] was started accidentally by a homeless person trying to stay warm.”

Weinfeld told ABC News that “people are relieved” to hear that conclusion. “I think people are very happy that this wasn’t, God forbid, someone trying to hurt us,” he added.

The Jewish Press reported Tuesday that the building was then vandalized on Saturday, although there was nothing seemingly left of value in the burnt rubble.

In January, in an act of vandalism that was clearly a hate crime, someone painted two swastikas on the door of a Jewish temple in a different neighborhood of San Jose.