Photo courtesy of Camp Ramah of the Rockies facebook page.

Ramah camp in the Rockies evacuated due to early morning fire


Camp Ramah in the Rockies was evacuated after a fire destroyed the building housing the camp kitchen, dining hall and administrative offices.

No one was hurt in the blaze at the Colorado Jewish camp, which started at 2 a.m. Monday and spread to some nearby trees. The camp’s executive director, Rabbi Eliav Bock, noted the damages in a message posted on Facebook.

Local firefighters quickly brought the fire under control, according to the newspaper. The cause has yet to be determined.

The campers and staff were relocated to a field far from the fire, where they played games and sang while under close supervision, according to the post. After sunrise, they boarded buses and drove under police escort from the camp near Bailey, Colorado to a synagogue in Denver, about 90 minutes away. Volunteers there provided them with food.

There were about 130 campers in the area when the fire broke out, the Denver Post reported.

“The immediate implementation of emergency protocols resulted in a calm and quick camp evacuation,” the statement said. “Camp leaders also retrieved Torah scrolls and other important items, and all animals were released to safe areas away from the fire.”

The JCC Ranch Camp in Elbert, Colorado, whose summer season ended this week, offered Ramah the use of their site for the remainder of the summer session, according to Ramah’s Facebook page. “We plan to relocate our entire camp community there by tomorrow evening,” the update said Monday evening. “We will be bringing our own kitchen staff, hospitality staff, and most importantly our own incredible program team and counselors, who are already busy coordinating with JCC Ranch Camp to plan activities such as archery, mountain biking, hiking, and sports.”
Money and passports belonging to campers and staff were stored in fireproof safes on the second floor of the building that burned down, but cell phones and other electronics were kept in a locked closet in the same building and were lost in the fire, the camp said.

Dual Tragedy of the Plasco Building Fire


For many Iranian-American Jews, the fire in and collapse of the historic Plasco Building in Tehran on Jan. 19 was a tragedy many times over.

The heartbreak comes not only from the loss of 75 innocent lives who tried to fight the fire or were trapped in the building; the building’s demise also rekindled the painful memories of the unjust execution of Habib Elghanian, the Jewish community leader who originally built the structure. The Plasco Building was one of the remaining symbols of the Jewish community’s height of success in Iran during its modern “golden age.” Not to acknowledge the Elghanian family’s role in this building’s creation and the tragedy that befell Habib Elghanian at the hands of the Iranian regime is also a travesty.

Media outlets worldwide have not extensively acknowledged the important role of the Elghanian family in the Plasco Building’s creation or only briefly mentioned Habib Elghanian’s name in passing. Elghanian and his brothers were among the most affluent and successful Jewish businessmen in Iran before the 1979 Iranian Revolution. They not only imported an array of goods from the West into the Iranian market and expanded infrastructure but also brought new technologies to Iran that helped the country manufacture its own goods and, as a result, helped employ thousands of Iranians in their businesses. The Elghanian family was equally generous in giving back to countless needy causes in Iran, Jewish and non-Jewish.

The Plasco Building, completed in 1962 and standing 17 stories, was the first privately built “high rise” of the modern era created in Iran. It was also the first modern “mall” of that early era in Iran, with floors that were home to many new stores for various goods and services. The Plasco Building was elegant and modern in design and structure for its time, and a huge departure from the ancient slum-like “bazaars” of Iran’s past where people typically went to buy their goods. At a time when Iran was beginning to modernize, the building was a powerful symbol of both the country’s positive transformation and the immense achievement of Iranian Jews.

It was likewise a symbol of great pride for Iranian Jews who, just four decades before, had been forced by the Qajar kings of Iran to live in poverty and in run-down ghettos.

“Jews were proud, of course, that a Jewish person had built this iconic building, but many elders in the community were apprehensive about its implications and the much expected backlash by Muslims, envious of Jewish accomplishments,” Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist living in Los Angeles, told me this week.

Jewish community leaders in Iran worried about the Plasco Building’s backlash because, according to Shahrzad Elghanayan, Habib Elghanian’s granddaughter, Iranian Shiite cleric Mahmoud Taleghani “objected to the idea that a Jew had built the tallest building of its time in Iran.” No doubt Taleghani, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and other Shiite clerics were furious at the Pahlavi kings, who had created an environment of co-existence and tolerance among Muslims and non-Muslims in Iran. The late Shah of Iran and his father had essentially set aside the old Islamic Shariah laws, which were designed to impose or ensure superiority of Muslims over Jews or other “infidels.” The Plasco Building, built and owned by a Jew, was a direct slap in the face to that radical Islamic dogma at the time because the notion of a Jewish building being taller in size than Muslim-owned buildings was a totally unacceptable notion for the fanatic Iranian religious clerics.

When Elghanian was executed, the news spread like wildfire among Iran’s 80,000-strong Jewish community and sparked the first massive wave of Jews fleeing the country.

Those fears turned out to be prescient. On May 9, 1979, Elghanian was executed by a firing squad of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard after being accused on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. Elghanian first was given a 20-minute sham trial in front of the Iranian Revolution Court and TV cameras, but never was allowed to consult with an attorney, nor any chance to defend himself from the baseless charges. When Elghanian was executed, the news spread like wildfire among Iran’s 80,000-strong Jewish community and sparked the first massive wave of Jews fleeing the country. On that disastrous day, the lives of Iran’s Jews were forever transformed for the worse. It was then that they realized when their beloved community leader could be so easily executed with no real evidence, they too were no longer safe in a country where they had lived for nearly 3,000 years.

In 2009, on the 30th anniversary of his execution, I had the unique opportunity to interview Elghanian family members, Iranian-Jewish leaders and Iranian Muslims who knew Habib Elghanian well and who recalled their memories of his imprisonment and execution. One of the most revealing interviews I had was with Sion Elghanian, Habib Elghanian’s brother, who told me that Habib had left Iran during the initial chaos of the revolution but then returned to Iran because of his patriotism and commitment to Iran’s Jews as their leader.

“We all begged him not to go back to Iran — including Israeli Prime Minister Begin, because we all knew the new regime would execute him if he returned,” Sion Elghanian said. “He said, ‘I have done nothing wrong for them to execute me. I’ve created jobs and businesses to help the country grow and helped many Iranians of all faiths. Why should they kill me?’ ”

Sion revealed his family had made plans to bribe officials to help Habib escape the prison and country, but Habib refused to go along with the plans.

“He told us he would not go along with the plan to escape because if he did, the Iranian regime would take revenge by executing Jews in Iran. In this way, he sacrificed his life for the community.”

Another revealing interview was of an Iranian-Muslim businessman named Nasser Oliae, who was a longtime Elghanian friend and had nothing but praise for him. “One day they must create a giant statue of Habib Elghanian in the middle of Tehran for all of the great things he did for that country! He brought the plastics manufacturing industry to Iran, he hired thousands of people, he gave generously to thousands of Iranians of all religions who were needy. He was a man who truly loved Iran and wanted to see the country’s success,” Oliae said.

Habib Elghanian

Habib Elghanian

Habib Elghanian was an innocent Jew who was executed for no reason by the evil Iranian regime, and that regime still has not apologized to Iranian Jewry for this injustice.

Elghanian family members sold the building in 1975 to Hojabr Yazdani, an affluent Iranian-Baha’i businessman. After the revolution, the Iranian regime’s official “nonprofit” organization, called Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan, confiscated the Plasco Building from Yazdani in 1979, and has been operating it since then. Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan, which translates to “organization for the oppressed people,” was a front established by the Iranian regime’s ayatollahs after the 1979 Revolution to expropriate the assets of any person who they believed was an “infidel” in order to allegedly “redistribute” it to the poor or needy in Iran. Unfortunately for Iran’s poor, the Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan has in the past 38 years never given a penny to them. Instead, the money and assets this group has confiscated over the years from Jews, Muslims, Christians and Baha’is have all gone into the pockets of the ruling Iranian ayatollahs. All of the Elghanian family assets and properties were also confiscated by the Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan.

What is truly unfortunate about the recent Plasco Building fire was the fact that, since it was owned by the Iranian regime, no one will be brought to justice for the failure to upkeep the building and prevent the fire hazards that brought it down. We will never know what caused the fire or explosion that destroyed this iconic building in Tehran, and sadly, the ayatollahs who profited from the building for the past 38 years will never be held accountable for the fire code violations that resulted in the loss of so many innocent lives.

In the end, the Plasco Building fire disaster not only caused the death of many individuals but the loss of one of the remaining symbols of Jewish contributions to Iran during the 20th century. The building was also a symbol of the bygone era of modernity and new development that an Iranian Jew named Habib Elghanian and his brothers brought to Iran. Today, we cannot forget the calamity that befell Habib Elghanian at the hands of the current Iranian regime, nor can we forget the tremendous contributions thousands of Iranian Jews made to the betterment of the nation of Iran during the 20th century. 

Rabbi says couples whose marriage licenses burned in wildfires cannot live together


The chief rabbi of an area affected by the wildfires that cut across Israel said couples whose marriage licenses were destroyed in the blazes cannot live together until they draw up a new one.

Rabbi Mordechai Abramovski of Zichron Yaakov said in an interview with the haredi Orthodox news website Kikar HaShabbat that the prohibition against living together without a ketubah, or Jewish wedding contract, applies in the case of a fire. His statements were first reported in English in The Jerusalem Post.

His ruling was at odds with Israel’s chief rabbis, Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau, who said Monday that couples could continue to live together without a ketubah burned in a fire but that a replacement ketubah should be procured as soon as possible. They said it is permissible since the rabbinates in which they registered their marriage maintain a copy of the ketubah.

Under Jewish law, couples cannot live together without a ketubah, a document established during the Talmudic era to protect women’s rights in a marriage.

Abramovski is also the rabbi in charge of issuing marriage licenses in Haifa.

Top US firefighters ‘dropped everything’ to help Israel battle the blazes


Call them Israel’s American volunteer fire brigade.

Dozens of firefighters from across the United States put their lives on hold – leaving behind jobs and families – to help subdue the wildfires that swept Israel over the past week. While they all share a love of Israel, only a handful of them are Jewish.

“We’re just firefighters. When guys hear about a situation like this one, where the Israelis are working as hard as they can, they want to come help,” said Billy Hirth, a Protestant who retired last year after a 24-year career as a firefighter in Arlington, Texas, and has been coordinating the American effort from Jerusalem.

“It’s a brotherhood. Firemen are firemen,” he said.

Hundreds of fires flared up in Israel starting Tuesday, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee. Some 32,000 acres of forest and brush burned along with hundreds of homes and businesses.

Israeli authorities said the fires started because of an unseasonably long dry spell and high winds, and then were exacerbated by Palestinian and Arab-Israeli arsonists with nationalist motives.

On Friday, Israel’s Public Security Ministry formally requested firefighting help from the Emergency Volunteers Project, a network of over 950 American volunteers and professional first responders. By Saturday evening, with the fires coming under control, the firefighters started arriving at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, from where they were schlepped to overstretched fire departments across the country.

Some went to work battling the remaining wildfires and those that flared up Sunday, while others chipped in with routine firefighting. The Israeli stations remain on high alert, with firefighters having worked grueling shifts over the past week.

“Many of the firefighters here, including myself, had been working for over 90 hours straight,” said Oren Shishitzky, a spokesman for Israel’s Fire and Rescue Authority. “Because most of the Americans were trained in Israel, they are familiar with how we operate, and they were able to easily relieve some of the burden on the crews, whether with regular fire response in local districts or in extinguishing the remaining wildfires.

“I cannot emphasize enough our appreciation that these guys dropped everything around the Thanksgiving holiday to come here.”

Adi Zahavi, 39, founded the Emergency Volunteers Project in 2009 after serving as an overwhelmed first responder during the second intifada and the Second Lebanon War. He set out to prepare willing Americans to help in future crises, from wars to terrorist attacks to natural disasters. Training sessions are held in the United States and Israel. The deployment of the volunteers is coordinated with Israeli authorities.

Of the 39 firefighters now in Israel, 33 are full-timers, including the first female firefighter the group has brought to Israel, and six are part-time volunteers. Several, including Hirth, also came to Israel during the 2014 Gaza war, when the south and center of the country were bombarded with rockets. Many are now working alongside firefighters with whom they have built friendships during training.

“The quality of the American firefighters that have arrived is excellent,” Shishitzky said. “They are elite firefighters, with years and years of experience. Many are veterans who serve in some of the best departments in America.

“Where there are distinctions in training and practice, those were overcome long ago with the training we have conducted.”

Elan Raber, 42, is one of seven Jews among the firefighters. He flew in Sunday morning from Los Angeles, where he works for the city fire department. Raber is familiar with the station he is serving at in Petach Tivkah because he trained there with the Emergency Volunteers Program.

He said he has been responding to routine calls, like traffic accidents, elevator accidents and reports of smoke.

“I was here last year and really bonded with the guys, so I wanted to come back. They do have pretty steady action and a lot of equipment to get familiar with,” Raber said. “We’re coming in here while these guys have already been up for three, four days. We can basically help them out and be on standby if the wildfires come back.”

Having been born in Israel and served in the Israel Defense Force, Raber views being here as a part of his “calling.”

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad press for Israel, so I hope to show that people are willing to drop everything to show solidarity with the people of Israel. I think people see that, and it’s a good thing. Firefighting was my calling, so I’m happy to help out,” he said.

A fellow Jew on the other side of the country helped bring Raber to Israel on short notice. Eli Row — the Orthodox Jewish owner of Jet911, an air ambulance company based in the Queens borough of New York City — scrambled to arrange flights for the firefighters over Shabbat, something that Jewish law requires if it could mean saving lives. Row landed in Israel on Monday afternoon to thank the American firefighters for their service.

Back in the U.S., 25 firefighters are standing by in case the wildfires again begin to spread. If not, and the weather conditions improve as hoped, the firefighters in Israel are to return home at the end of the week.

Israelis displaced by fires to receive assistance from Jewish Agency, government


The Jewish Agency for Israel will provide immediate financial assistance to hundreds of families throughout Israel whose homes were damaged by fires that swept the country.

The announcement came hours after Israel’s finance minister, Moshe Kahlon, approved an allocation of about $650 per person for those who were forced to leave their homes and are unable to return. Over 1,000 homes reportedly were damaged or destroyed in the fires.

A grant of $1,000 from the Jewish Agency will be provided to each family “to help them address urgent needs presented by the loss of their place of residence,” the Jewish Agency said Sunday in a statement.

Funding for the grants will be provided by special contributions from the Jewish Federations of North America led by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, Keren Hayesod-UIA and additional donors, the agency said.

“At trying times like these, world Jewry feels closely connected to what is taking place in Israel and comes to our help without hesitation,” Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said in the statement. “We are proud of our partners in Jewish communities around the world, and particularly in North America, and appreciate their solidarity when it matters the most.”

Local authorities, in coordination with Israel’s National Emergency Authority, will determine eligibility for the funds.

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews provided vouchers for food and clothing to the elderly and new immigrants displaced by the fire. On Friday, it launched an emergency telephone hotline operating in Arabic, Hebrew and Russian, providing the elderly and new immigrants with details about seeking help and giving volunteers a way to offer their help.

The Jewish Federations of North America opened an Israel Fire Emergency Fund over the weekend, with the funds designated to help Israelis displaced by the some 200 fires that have burned throughout the country.

The Jewish National Fund also opened an emergency fund, with donations earmarked for new firefighting equipment and reforestation.

The Israeli-American Council on Friday opened a fund “to support the firefighters working around the clock to save lives and property.”

Palestinian police: No evidence Jewish settlers set blaze in Palestinian home


There is no evidence that a fire in a home in the West Bank Palestinian village of Duma was set by Jewish settlers, Palestinian security officials said.

The fire early Monday morning sent three Palestinian residents to the hospital suffering smoke inhalation and damaged the home, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported. The security officials said that they would not rule out any possibilities, however.

A home in Duma was firebombed last month in what was believed to be a nationalist attack by Jewish extremists. Saad Dawabsha and his 18-month-old son, Ali, were killed.

Members of the extended Dawabshe family own the house that suffered the fire on Monday.

Palestinian Authority police said the fire could have been the result of an electrical problem, though Maan reported that unidentified assailants threw flammable material on the house. Israel Fire Services reportedly believe an electrical problem was at fault.

U.S. Western wildfires stretch resources thin


Dozens of large wildfires roared largely unchecked across several Western states on Monday, stretching resources thin for agencies struggling to contain the flames amid a heat wave gripping the drought-parched region.

Among the areas hardest hit was northern Idaho, where an elderly evacuee was killed and at least 50 homes were destroyed by a cluster of fires that have raged along the Clearwater River in and around the Nez Perce Indian Reservation since last week.

The so-called Clearwater Complex of fires has charred more than 50,000 acres (20,000 hecatares) of timber and brush and prompted the evacuation of more than 100 homes from the vicinity of the logging towns of Orofino and Kamiah, authorities said.

An elderly woman died on Friday night or early Saturday as flames hemmed in Kamiah on three sides, according to Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings. Cheryl Wissler, 70, was trying to secure her backyard chickens before fleeing with her husband when she fell and hit her head, Giddings said. An autopsy was planned.

Giddings said authorities, firefighters and residents have been taxed by multiple fires burning across an 8,500-square-mile (22,000-sq-km) county intersected by steep canyons and mountain forests crowded with pine and fir trees.

“There are very limited resources and fires everywhere,” he said.

Ryan Greendeer, a spokesman for fire managers overseeing the Clearwater Complex, said that for the third day on Monday the team's requests for reinforcements of ground crews and aircraft had been returned with the initials “UTF,” for “unable to fill.”

“Because of the fire activity around the entire region, our resources are stretched very, very thin,” he said. “Each incident is having to make do with what is available, not what's needed.”

The Clearwater was one of 14 major wildfires burning across Idaho and one of 80 tallied in seven Western states, the bulk of them in Washington, Oregon, Montana and California, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

Little if any containment had been achieved for at least half of those blazes as of Monday, the agency reported, citing breezy conditions and unusually high temperatures persisting across much of the West.

In one of the fiercest conflagrations, at least 1,000 people were ordered from homes over the weekend in central Oregon, where a cluster of wildfires dubbed the Canyon Creek Complex destroyed 26 dwellings and continued to threaten hundreds of other structures, authorities said.

Massive Jerusalem fire deliberately set


A fire that caused the evacuation of hundreds of residents of a Jerusalem neighborhood and nearby Moshav and burned more than 70 acres was found to be deliberately set.

The remains of two firebombs were found near where Sunday’s fire was believed to have started, the Times of Israel reported, citing Israeli radio reports.

The fire burned homes and warehouses in Moshav Even Sapir and caused the temporary closing of Route 1, the main highway into Jerusalem, which was reopened by evening. It also moved near Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem, but the hospital was never threatened, according to reports.

Some 30 firefighting teams and at least four airplanes battled the blaze for about eight hours.

The country has been hit by a days-long heatwave, with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees in the Jerusalem area on Sunday.

Other fires that have burned in recent weeks near Jerusalem are believed to have been started by arsonists. Nearly 400 acres of forest in the Jerusalem area have been burned.

Wildfire overruns packed California freeway, burns cars


A brush fire burning in the Southern California foothills overran a packed freeway in a mountain pass on Friday, torching several vehicles as drivers abandoned their cars and scrambled to safety.

Television images showed fire-fighting aircraft dropping water onto burning vehicles. At least three cars and two tractor-trailer rigs, one carrying new vehicles, were in flames on the Interstate 15 freeway that links Southern California and Las Vegas.

Drivers could be seen standing on the side of the road in the Cajon Pass, their vehicles left stranded in the gridlocked traffic.

The wildfire, which broke out on Friday in the drought-parched foothills of San Bernardino County, had charred more than 500 acres (200 hectares) by late afternoon as crews battled to get it under control.

Mother of 7 children who died in Brooklyn house fire leaves hospital


The mother of seven children who died in a March fire in their Brooklyn home was released from the hospital.

Gayle Sassoon left the hospital on Friday and will continue to recover at the Brooklyn home of her mother-in-law, her husband, Gabriel, told the Kol Barama radio station on Sunday during an eight-minute interview.

Sassoon will continue to receive rehabilitation treatment on an outpatient basis, including to improve her walking and the use of her hands, Gabriel Sassoon said, calling his wife “very strong” and saying she possesses “a lot of faith.”

“We are able to cry about them [the children] with love and then be happy instead of crying about them and missing them and being depressed,” Gabriel Sassoon said. “So, I and my wife are trying to make our missing them for something better, to remember the love and the joy that we have. Through this, it’s possible to change the situation from something negative to something positive.”

The couple’s surviving daughter, Tzipporah, 15, came home from the hospital in April.

Gabriel Sassoon was out of town at a religious conference when the fire consumed the family’s home in the New York City borough shortly after midnight on March 22, a Saturday. Officials have blamed an unattended hot plate warming Shabbat meals as the cause.

Gayle Sassoon and Tziporah escaped by leaping from the second floor of the house. The seven children, who ranged in age from 5 to 16, were buried in Jerusalem.

Grief-stricken Brooklyn father: My children ‘had faces of angels’


The Brooklyn father who lost seven of his eight children in a home fire called his kids “a sacrifice” to the community.

Gabriel Sassoon sobbed as he tried to recite the names of his late children — saying they were “angels” — during a eulogy Sunday at a Jewish funeral home in the heavily Orthodox Jewish Borough Park section of Brooklyn, the New York Post reported.

“They all had faces of angels. Hashem [God] knows how much I love them,” Sassoon said, according to the Post.

He was out of town at a religious conference when the fire consumed his home shortly after midnight Saturday. Officials have blamed an unattended hot plate warming Shabbat meals as the cause.

His wife, Gayle, and one of his daughters, Tziporah, 15, both escaped the blaze by leaping from the house but are fighting for their lives in the hospital. They are unaware of the seven deaths.

About 1,000 people lined the street outside the Shomrei Hadas funeral home for the service, according to the Post. Inside, an overflowing crowd of mourners wailed for the lost children, who ranged in age from 5 to 16.

The bodies were expected to be flown to Israel for burial in Jerusalem.

“They were a burnt offering,” Sassoon said of his children. “I lost everything in the fire. Seven pure sheep. Those are my seven children.”

Gayle Sassoon reportedly had planned to take the children out of town for the weekend — to her parents’ home in southern New Jersey — but stayed home because of a snowstorm that hit the New York area.

Brooklyn house fire kills 7 from Orthodox Jewish family


Seven children from an Orthodox Jewish family died early on Saturday when flames ripped through their Brooklyn home in one of New York City's deadliest fires in years, officials said.

Their 45-year-old mother and a teenage sister survived after jumping from an upper floor. The two were taken to a local hospital and were in critical condition, New York Fire Department spokesman Michael Parrella said.

The blaze erupted in the single-family dwelling around 12:30 a.m. It apparently was started accidentally by a hot plate, used by many Orthodox families to warm food on the Sabbath, said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

It was the highest death toll in a fire in the city in seven years, Nigro said.

“This is an unbelievable tragedy,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters after seeing the devastation at the site of the blaze. “Every New Yorker is feeling this pain right now.”

De Blasio described the interior of the house, located in Brooklyn's middle-class Midwood neighborhood, as completely charred.

“You can literally see what was a home for a large and strong family and now it is wiped out, every room empty and burned,” he said.

De Blasio asked for the surrounding community to support the family's grieving father, who was apparently away for a conference overnight.

Responding to reports of flames inside the home, firefighters forced their way in and extinguished the fire, which had started in the kitchen, Nigro said. They then found the children, aged 5 to 16, in their bedrooms near the back of the home, he said, after the mother and another daughter jumped.

“I heard the mother yelling, 'My kids are in there! My kids are in there! Get them out! Get them out!'” neighbor Nate Weber told the New York Daily News. “The mother was outside. She was burned.”

Police have identified the children who died as Yaakob Sassoon, 5, Sara, 6, Moshe, 8, Yeshua, 10, Rivkah, 11, David, 12, and Eliane, 16. Authorities initially said the oldest child was 15 years old.

More than 100 firefighters turned out to battle the blaze and brought it under control within an hour, Parrella said.

Midwood has a large population of Orthodox Jewish residents. Nigro said the hot plate was likely left switched on because of religious restrictions on lighting fires during the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday.

Investigators treat massive L.A. construction blaze as ‘criminal fire’


A fierce blaze that destroyed a downtown Los Angeles apartment complex under construction next to a fire house and damaged three nearby buildings on Monday is being examined by arson investigators as a “criminal fire,” authorities said.

Commuter traffic into the nation's second-largest city was snarled through the morning rush as authorities shut down a major nearby freeway because of the blaze, which fire officials said erupted overnight and took three hours to bring under control. No injuries were reported.

About 250 firefighters, roughly a fourth of the city's on-duty force, battled the blaze at its height, said Katherine Main, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles City Fire Department.

Although the cause was not immediately known, city arson investigators, assisted by agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were “going to treat it as if it's a criminal fire until proven otherwise,” Fire Captain Jamie Moore told reporters.

He said that the size of the conflagration, as well as the speed and intensity with which it spread, gave investigators cause for concern that it may have been intentionally set.

The site that burned – two stories of poured concrete beneath five floors of wood framing – occupied an entire city block near the junction of two major traffic arteries – the Hollywood Freeway and the Harbor Freeway.

Moments after the first alarm, firefighters whose station is located at the end of the block emerged to see the entire development, measuring 1.3 million square feet (121,000 sq meters), engulfed in flames, Moore said.

“They opened the doors, and they saw fire from one end to the other,” he said, adding it was rare for such a large site to go up in flames so swiftly, especially since the exposed lumber would still have been damp from two days of rain late last week.

Much of the structure, wrapped in scaffolding, collapsed in the flames, producing heat so intense it ignited three floors of a neighboring 16-story high-rise building, melting telephones, computers and office cubicle partitions, he said.

The radiant heat also blew out windows from two other nearby office buildings, one of them, the Department of Water and Power headquarters two blocks away, raining shards of glass on firefighters working below to cool the structures with water.

Deputy Chief Joseph Castro credited quick work by fire crews with preventing the construction-site inferno from fully encroaching on all three adjacent high-rises.

Flames spread across the Harbor Freeway at one point, prompting authorities to close a northbound stretch during rush-hour traffic, along with three off-ramps into downtown from the Hollywood Freeway.

“It was just a nightmare,” California Highway Patrol spokesman Edgar Figueroa said of the gridlock.

Firefighters remained on the scene through much of the day, performing mop-up work and pouring water on hot-spots that continued to smolder.

The building under construction was to become the latest of several faux-Italian-style luxury apartment complexes erected by developer G.H. Palmer Associates in downtown L.A. The company said a companion building would open on schedule next month.

Firefighters battle raging San Diego wildfires


California firefighters were battling wind-whipped wildfires on Friday, as some 125,000 people fled their homes in the San Diego area and police arrested at least two people on arson-related charges.

The cluster of fires comes as California enters its peak fire season amid its worst drought in decades. Officials worry it could be a particularly dangerous year.

Crews made some progress against the fires, which have scorched thousands of acres this week across Southern California. But they had only a tenuous grip on the so-called Cocos Fire, which was threatening the northern San Diego county communities of San Marcos and Escondido.

Late on Thursday, Escondido Police said they had arrested two teens, ages 17 and a 19-year-old, identified as Isaiah Silva, on arson-related charges after locating the pair near a mall. They matched descriptions by witnesses of two people trying to set fires in the South Escondido area.

Authorities elsewhere were also investigating how so many fires started about the same time and whether any were intentionally set.

“We all have suspicions, like the public does, when you have nine fires that started all over the county,” San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said.

At least one large home was burned to the ground in suburban San Marcos by the Cocos Fire. Television images showed towering flames closing in on other homes as residents scrambled to collect belongings and evacuate.

Twists of flames roared in the wind and across hillsides, filling the sky with plumes of black smoke. Fire engines with lights flashing moved along winding streets in neighborhoods of large Spanish-style homes.

The fires had destroyed seven homes and an 18-unit apartment building across San Diego county, authorities said. Seven other homes and two businesses were damaged.

The roughly 1,200-acre Cocos Fire was at least 5 percent contained by late Thursday evening, Cal Fire said, and fire officials were aided by weakened winds and cooler temperatures overnight. About 1,600 San Marcos residents were allowed to return home to specific areas, the sheriff's department said early on Friday.

However, California State University's San Marcos campus, which has some 9,000 students, and other areas remained under evacuation orders.

Elsewhere, a blaze that broke out on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base north of San Diego had charred some 6,000 acres.

A 400-acre fire in the coastal city of Carlsbad destroyed 18 apartment units, four houses and two commercial buildings and forced the evacuation of residents, along with the Legoland amusement park and 13 employees at the largely decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

That blaze was about 85 percent contained on Thursday evening and officials lifted evacuation orders for the city of Carlsbad. Crews checking hot spots found a badly burned body in a transient encampment. They could not immediately confirm the person was killed by the fire.

Writing by Eric M. Johnson

Firefighters’ families share the language of loss


Bat-Sheva and Hofit Hayat, mother and wife of deceased Israeli firefighter Danny Hayat, shared their story and grief with the families of the 19 Hotshot firefighters who died on June 30 in the Yarnell, Ariz., wildfire. The two women relayed their experience in Arizona when visiting Los Angeles as a last stop before returning to Israel. As native Hebrew speakers, Hofit and Bat-Sheva struggled to express themselves in English as tears streamed down their faces and sorrow filled their voices when talking about Danny in Los Angeles. They said a similar scene took place in Arizona, however, the Hayats were speaking a universal language families in Arizona understood: the language of loss.

The Hayats lost Danny to the Mount Carmel forest fire in Israel in December 2010, as the 44th and final victim. He died rescuing Israeli Prison Service and police officers from a bus near the fire. Bat-Sheva initially reached out in writing to the 19 families of the firefighters in Arizona to send her condolences and share her personal and very similar tragedy.

After the letter, Keren Hayesod, an Israeli nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the priorities of the State of Israel, paid for the Hayats to travel to Arizona. According to Bat-Sheva, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also blessed the trip.

The Hayats said they felt they had to support the families of the fallen firefighters in Arizona. In sharing their pain and suffering, they hoped to bring power and solidarity to the community.

“I came here to strengthen the families and the American people, but they strengthened me,” Bat-Sheva said.

With this newfound strength came uncommon emotion. In Israel, Bat-Sheva said, she tried not to cry to avoid looking weak. In Arizona however, it was a different story. 

“I look at the families and I see myself. I cry for them and I cry for myself,” Bat-Sheva said with tears in her eyes.

Bat-Sheva mourned with the community in Prescott, Ariz., at the memorial service for the firefighters and was joined by Hofit at a commemoration organized by the Jewish Community Association on July 9. 

Hofit, Danny’s wife of nine years and significant other for 13, said she uses Judaism to deal with her loss. She tells her three children that “everything happens for a reason.” 

“I think this is the destiny of Danny. I think God brought him to that road because that was his mission in life,” Hofit said. 

Bat-Sheva remembers her son as a dedicated, loving and selfless individual. She and her daughter-in-law still marvel at his constant choice, in his career and in life, to serve others before himself. 

“Danny was the hero of the fire, a firefighter hero. But for us, Danny was a hero every day, every hour,” Bat-Sheva said. “He was our hero.”

Beitar Jerusalem soccer fans arrested in connection with arson attack


Some members of the Beitar Jerusalem's nationalist and extremist fan club were arrested in connection with the arson attack on the soccer team's office and trophy room.

Jerusalem police arrested as many as seven fans belonging to the club called La Familia; more arrests reportedly are coming.

The alleged arsonists reportedly were identified through electronic surveillance.

La Famillia said it would suspend its activities due to the recent events, including the harsh reaction to the hiring of two Muslim team members from Chechnya. The club occupied the bleachers at the eastern side of the soccer field; the eastern bleachers have been ordered closed for the next five games by the Israel Football Association's disciplinary court.

Memorabilia and team records were damaged in the Feb. 8 fire.

“The history of Beitar has gone up in flames,” property caretaker Meir Harush told the news site NRG.

The attack followed the indictments that day of four Beitar Jerusalem fans suspected of incitement against Arabs and Muslims. On Jan. 26, the indictment said, the four men, all in their 20s, called “death to the Arabs” while watching a game from the bleachers.

On Feb. 10, some 35 supporters of Beitar Jerusalem were removed from Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem for racist chanting.

Chanukah lessons in a post-Sandy world


Late last month, I was in Breezy Point, the isolated beachfront neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., that has become an iconic image for the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Breezy Point was hit full force twice — first by the storm’s surge and then immediately after by a fire that consumed more than 80 houses in one part of the neighborhood. 

Nearly a month later, residents could still be found wandering through the burned section, seeking remains from their incinerated homes. Looking around, I could only make out a few recognizable objects: mangled bicycle frames, tangled bedsprings, charred washer-dryer units, the occasional sink or tub. All were covered in rust. 

At the late-afternoon hour when I visited, light was fading, and the shadows were getting longer. Earlier in the day, Rockaway Point Boulevard, the main street that runs through Breezy Point, had been packed with recovery and relief traffic — trucks, big and small, many with out-of-state plates — but now the lines of vehicles had thinned. 

I’d come to visit this and other Atlantic beach towns thinking about Chanukah, which was soon approaching. Although not many Jews live in Breezy Point proper — it’s known as the whitest part of New York City, and one longtime resident described it to me as “a good Christian community” — still, this town, one of a few that got the worst of Sandy and was blasted by the surge from two sides, sits on the far western edge of the Rockaway Peninsula, a thin spit of land off the coast of Long Island that is home to many, many Jews. I’d also made stops in Far Rockaway, Woodmere and Lawrence earlier in the day, and while they were not as ravaged, it was clear that, throughout the region, celebrating Chanukah will certainly be uniquely challenging this year. 

The holiday, which starts on Saturday evening, Dec. 8, is, on one level, a celebration of  bringing light into the darkness. This year, light’s preciousness will, no doubt, be acknowledged by all: These days, when the sun goes down, the streets of the Rockaways quickly become dark, empty and cold. 

Symbolic rituals may offer only limited comfort to Sandy’s victims. Chanukah candles are traditionally lit at home, and an untold number of residents — thousands of Jews among them — are still not living in their homes, more than a month after the storm. Many whose electrical systems were damaged by flooding during the storm, particularly in the areas I visited, are still without power. 

Even many who are in their homes are struggling with extensive and expensive repairs that may not be covered by their insurance policies. Payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can help, but for people who lost everything on the lower floors of their homes to the storm — couches, tables, chairs, beds, large appliances of all types and one or two cars — the replacement costs can be staggering, possibly unachievable. 

And yet, as I talked to people in and around the areas affected by Sandy, they displayed such generosity and resilience that, even in the path of the second-most-destructive weather event in American history, I found myself thinking that Chanukah in these parts of New York and New Jersey may not be quite so dark this year, after all. 

In the spirit of Chanukah —– and hinting at five of the holiday’s most salient themes — here are their stories. 

Light 

Rabbi Zalman Wolowik, the director and spiritual leader of Chabad of the Five Towns, wasn’t available when I traveled through his neighborhood on the day before Thanksgiving. But when I reached him by phone soon after, he told me that the Five Towns will see more public menorah lightings this year than usual. “So we can light up the community,” Wolowik said. 

Wolowik has been lighting up — and powering up — his community since the Chabad house reopened just 24 hours after the storm hit. 

“I wouldn’t call it a homeless shelter, but it became a place where people could get a meal; recharge their phone, their computer, their iPad; get a warm blanket, clean socks, Pampers, cleaning supplies,” he said. Even now, his Chabad is still distributing items to people who may not have what they need. 

Cindy and Peter Grosz, whose devastated house in the Five Towns was being gutted by volunteers when I visited, said they had visited Chabad soon after the storm. There, a tent had been set up in the parking lot, and local merchants were distributing all kinds of necessities for storm victims. The two halogen heating lamps now being used to warm the Groszes’ living room had come from that event. 

“It was as if you were buying something,” Wolowik said, “but everything was free, from clothing to household goods.”

Luck

Whenever I asked someone involved in the post-Sandy recovery effort about their experiences, more often than not I would hear some variant of this phrase: “I consider myself lucky.” 

There was Stuart Slotnick, the managing partner of the New York office of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a large law firm. He and other lawyers recently held a pop-up legal clinic in Moonachie, N.J., to help members of that hard-hit community fill out forms to send to FEMA. 

Among the secretaries who work in his office, one still didn’t have power as of Nov. 21. Another was still heating her apartment by boiling water on the stove. 

Slotnick had to move his family out of their house, temporarily. “I only lost power for 10 days, so I consider myself lucky,” he said. 

There was Cindy Grosz, the homeowner in the Five Towns, who was visibly distressed by the extent of the damage to the first floor of her home. Volunteers from NECHAMA, a Minnesota-based Jewish disaster response nonprofit, were prying wood panels off the walls of the house and removing the lower sections of the drywall, which was soaked and had begun to grow moldy. 

Volunteers had helped Grosz’s husband pile up furniture and other large items, all of it destined for the landfill. Meanwhile, in the living room, Grosz and her husband had salvaged a few items that hadn’t been destroyed by the storm. A lot of it appeared to be glassware. 

“I’m trying to be positive,” she said. “Thank God, we’re all alive. It could’ve been worse.”

Gimel

I met New York State Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder in Far Rockaway at 10 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving, as he, along with New York City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, was helping distribute kosher turkeys in plastic shopping bags from the side door of the Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula (JCCRP). 

Goldfeder, who wore a kippah and a fleece-lined windbreaker, said his family of four had been sleeping “in different beds, on different couches” since the storm. They only got back into their home after Thanksgiving, about a month after Sandy struck. 

And yet, because Goldfeder represents a district that includes most of the Rockaway peninsula — 80 percent of it, he said, had been damaged either by storm or fire — he, too, considers himself lucky. 

“I think about what I’m going through, and it just means I have to work harder to make sure everyone else is taken care of,” he said. 

The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty helped to organize the turkey giveaway, one of many efforts it has undertaken since the storm; William Rapfogel, the organization’s CEO, was on hand, as was Lisa Gaon, the director of Met Council’s Jewish Community Network.

Gaon said she had been barred from her apartment in Long Beach — the building’s electrical system sustained significant damage — for more than three weeks and didn’t expect to be back in for another month. In the meantime, she and her 6-year-old daughter are staying with friends. 

“The biggest issue is the kids,” Gaon told me, “keeping them in schools and getting them to school.”

The school bus that normally picked up her daughter won’t come to the house where they are staying, across the border in Nassau County. So Gaon drives her daughter — using a loaner car from Met Council because she lost hers in the storm — to and from school every day. And instead of working out of Met Council’s main offices in Manhattan, Gaon said she had been working out of the Rockaway Peninsula location since the storm.

“I’m an easy one; I only have one kid,” Gaon said. “It’s hard for a lot of families. I don’t even talk about myself, because everybody else has it so much worse.”

Courage 

The lucky ones know they’re lucky because they’re meeting people who’ve lost everything — people like Janis. 

I met Janis, a middle-aged white woman with a gravelly voice who wouldn’t give her last name, at the Habitat for Humanity tent in Breezy Point. 

MaccabeeJanis has spent summers at Breezy Point for 57 years and has been living there year-round since 2001. She had come to Breezy Point to check on her house, which she said had been pushed about 15 feet off its foundation by the storm surge, out onto the sidewalk. 

“We’ll survive,” she said as she handed out chocolate-covered marshmallows to the other members of the Habitat team. “We’ve got Jim.” 

“Jim” is James Killoran, executive director of the Westchester, N.Y., chapter of Habitat for Humanity, which has been on the ground in Breezy Point since Nov. 2, just four days after the storm hit. 

Janis’ home is sure to be demolished — she knows this — and there’s not a lot that Killoran and his volunteers can do for her. Killoran stayed upbeat, though. 

“Just being here is a victory,” he said. “It’s not about the walls, it’s about each other.”

Norma Silva, a member of the Habitat chapter’s board who was spending her 18th day in Breezy Point, reinforced that message — that whatever help she and the other volunteers can offer, even if it isn’t much, is really appreciated by residents. 

“Some of them, I get their name and address, and then I ask them, ‘What is it that you need to be done?’ All of a sudden they just start crying,” Silva said. “Because they don’t even know where to start.” 

Gifts

So far, Habitat volunteers — a group that here often includes some experienced responders from Israel — have mostly been focused on clearing homes of flooded belongings and removing the lower drywall to expose the wooden studs of a house. It’s as if everyone in the region is throwing away half — or more — of their belongings: I saw piles of toys and furniture and sodden boxes at the ends of driveways, and one large public park on the peninsula had been converted into a temporary landfill. Among the first things Killoran brought to Breezy Point were 500 boxes of heavy-duty plastic garbage bags, knowing they’d be needed. 

GiftIn normal years at Chanukah, these people might have been considering what trinket or video game to buy for their friends and family. This year, some organizations are making efforts to help people replace at least some of what they have lost and offer a few gifts, as well. 

At the “shopping” night organized by Chabad of the Five Towns, every kid who came left with a watch. (“There was enough disorientation that they didn’t even know what time zone they were in,” Wolowik said.) At the JCCRP in Far Rockaway when I was there, a couple of staffers from a state senator’s office in a nearby district showed up with a dozen kosher turkeys and about as many comforters — all new, still in their original packaging. 

People are in need of food and new blankets, Met Council’s Gaon told me, but that’s only the beginning of what will be required. 

“Nobody has beds; nobody has a table to sit at when they move back in; nobody has a chair to sit on,” she said. “Real basic, basic stuff.” 

Gelt 

The recovery from Sandy — and, eventually, the rebuilding — will cost tens of billions of dollars. 

As of Nov. 30, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was asking for $36.8 billion for his state, and New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg each had asked for more than $40 billion in federal emergency assistance for New York state. 

GeltThe sense from those working in the trenches is, however, that those funds — and the millions being directed from Jewish organizations to the region — won’t be enough for many victims. 

Wolowik outlined some of the requests he’s received since the storm: Requests for funds from people whose homeowner’s insurance policy doesn’t cover flood damage, from people whose automobile insurance won’t cover the cost of replacing their lost cars, from people who don’t have enough money to pay their deductibles. 

“What people need most is financial aid,” Wolowik said. “With that they can do whatever is needed.” 

Chanukah begins at sundown on Saturday, Dec. 8. 


To learn more about the organizations responding to Sandy in New York's Rockaway Peninsula, visit

For those in or near the affected areas, the UJA-Federation of New York has compiled a list of volunteer opportunities here:

For an in depth list of 63 synagogues affected by Hurricane Sandy, visit The Forward here:

Major fire under control in Jerusalem area


A major fire in the Jerusalem area believed to be arson is under control.

More than 40 firefighting squads and two firefighting planes came together to put out the fire on Wednesday near the Hadassah Ein-Kerem Medical Center. Some hospital visitors were evacuated, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Four West Bank Palestinians found nearby were arrested in connection with the blaze, which started in several places. Police believe the fire was set intentionally but have not ruled out the possibility that hikers accidentally set the blaze.

A smaller fire, requiring 20 fire crews and two firefighting planes, was contained in the Carmel Mountains.

Arson suspected in fire at Eritreans’ Jerusalem apartment


Two African migrants were injured after a fire was allegedly set at the entrance to their Jerusalem apartment.

The fire broke out early Thursday morning; firefighters reportedly found rags soaked in an accelerant at the entrance to the apartment.

Its residents, a man and his pregnant wife, both from Eritrea, were taken to Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital suffering from moderate burns and smoke inhalation.

Four Eritrean migrants were injured a month ago when their Jerusalem apartment was set alight. There also have been several arson incidents against African migrants in Tel Aviv.

Palestinian teens arrested for Jerusalem arson, shots fired inside Gaza Strip restaurant


Two Palestinian teens were arrested for setting a fire near Jerusalem that destroyed 15 acres of forest.

The teens were arrested Monday and reportedly admitting to intentionally setting the June 26 fire, as well as to setting other fires and being involved in rock-throwing incidents, Ynet reported.

Some 35 firefighting teams from across the country and six firefighting planes battled the blaze, which was ignited near Kibbutz Ma’aleh Hahamisha, as well as another near the entrance to the city.

The Jerusalem area reportedly has suffered hundreds of fires in recent weeks, and many are believed to be the result of arson.

Meanwhile, shots fired from inside the Gaza Strip damaged a restaurant at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai. The Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Monday evening, according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces. A car also was hit by the machine-gun fire, Ynet reported.

The IDF and police patrolled the area before lowering the alert levels.

Relief funds assisting Colorado fire victims


As residents of Colorado Springs return to their homes following widespread wild fires, U.S. Jewish communities are raising money for relief funds.

The Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, in conjunction with local synagogues, community organizations and national partners, has launched the Colorado Fire Relief Fund to help victims, firefighters, first responders and others affected by the fires.

Jewish federations have been directing donors to the Colorado Fire Relief Fund online or to send checks with the notation “Colorado Fire Relief Fund” to Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, 300 S. Dahlia, Suite 300, Denver, CO 80246.

All the donations to the Colorado Fire Relief Fund will go to directly combat the fire and help victims. There will be no administrative fees taken out of these funds, according to a Jewish Federations of North America statement.

Chabad-Lubavitch of Colorado Springs also has set up a relief fund.

Massive Jerusalem fire under control


A fire near Jerusalem that threatened homes and closed the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway reportedly is under control.

It will still take time to extinguish all of the blazes near the city, according to fire officials.

Some 35 firefighting teams from across the country and six firefighting planes have battled the blaze, which reportedly erupted in two places.

Fire officials told Israeli media that the fire was either intentionally set or caused by negligence.

The Jerusalem area reportedly has suffered hundreds of fires in recent weeks, and many are believed to be the result of arson.

Fire at apartment of Eritrean migrants called arson


A Jerusalem apartment home to migrant workers from Eritrea was set on fire.

Ten Eritreans were rescued from the burning apartment early Monday morning; four were injured in the blaze.

An initial investigation by the Jerusalem Fire Department found that the fire was the result of arson.

Investigators found on one of the apartment walls spray-painted graffiti that read “Get out of the neighborhood.”

The fire reportedly was set near the door of the apartment, making it nearly impossible for the occupants to escape.

More than a month ago, firebombs were thrown at several apartments in Tel Aviv that are home to African migrants.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday condemned violence against African migrants, calling the Jerusalem attack a “heinous crime.”

“No person has the right to violate the law and resort to violence against others, certainly not to endanger lives, for any reason whatsoever. Law and ethics prohibit any injury to the other, the guest and the foreigner. Jewish history compels us to take exceptional caution on these matters,” the ministry said in a statement.

Kassams strike southern Israel


At least four Kassam rockets fired from Gaza struck southern Israel.

Three rockets hit Wednesday night, according to the Israel Defense Forces, though some Israeli news reports put the number at five. An additional rocket hit about three hours earlier. No damage or injuries were reported.

In the last month, 29 rockets fired from Gaza have struck Israel, according to the IDF.

State Department condemns vandalism of West Bank mosque


The United States condemned the vandalizing of a mosque in the northern West Bank.

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s most recent vandalizing of a mosque, as well as the burning of three cars, in the West Bank village of Dir Istiya. Hateful, dangerous, and provocative actions such as these are never justified,”  the State Department said in a statement released late Wednesday.

The words “price tag” and “Gal Arye Yosef” were spray-painted on the wall of the mosque in the village of Dir Istiya, near Ariel, in the early Wednesday morning attack. The graffiti refers to an illegal outpost that was razed the previous day.

The State Department statement noted that the Israeli government “pledged to capture those responsible for these reprehensible attacks and to bring the perpetrators to justice” and called on the local authorities to “work together with the community to reduce tension and to defend religious freedom.”

“We again call for calm on the part of all parties and urge them to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of violence. Violence only serves to impede the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on acceptance and respect,” the statement said.

An attempt to attack the mosque was carried out last September.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak strongly condemned the attack and commanded the Israel Defense Forces and officials in the defense establishment to “act resolutely, purposefully and to use all the means at their disposal to capture the lawless rioters and bring them to justice,” according to a statement issued from the Ministry of Defense.

“Such acts prevent the IDF from carrying out its primary missions, including the basic protection of the region’s residents,” Barak said. “These activities are designed to damage the fragile relationship between Israelis and Palestinians in the Judea and Samaria region, as well as between Israel and its neighbors. The IDF, in cooperation with the police and security personnel, will act robustly against these criminal activities.”

Arab cars set alight in eastern Jerusalem


Two cars owned by Arabs were set on fire near the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.

The words “price tag” and “revenge” were spray painted near the site of the suspected arson attack, which occurred early Wednesday morning.

No suspects have been identified, but the graffiti is typical of other attacks by extremist right-wing Jews.

At least three mosques in the West Bank and Jerusalem have been torched in recent weeks. Similar graffiti was left at the sites of those attacks. Jewish settlers were arrested in connection with at least one of the attacks.

West Bank mosque set alight following outpost razing


A mosque in the West Bank was set alight hours after Israeli soldiers demolished two structures in an illegal outpost.

The interior of a mosque in a village near Ramallah was torched after being soaked with gasoline on Thursday morning. The words “war” and “Mitzpe Yitzhar,” the outpost that was razed early Thursday morning, were painted on the mosque. The attack comes a day after an historic unused mosque in Jerusalem was set on fire, damaging its exterior, and Palestinian vehicles were torched in the West Bank. Right-wing extremists have been blamed for the attacks.

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the mosque attack a declaration of war by the settlers against the Palestinian people. He placed responsibility for the attack on the Israeli government and called on the international community to get involved.

The attack came hours after hundreds of Israeli soldiers and police dismantled two buildings, one residential, in the illegal West Bank outpost of Mitzpe Yitzhar, in which five families live.

There was little resistance since the area around the outpost was declared a closed military zone, preventing dozens of right-wing activists from entering the site.

On Tuesday night, settlers and right-wing activists vandalized a West Bank Israel Defense Forces base, injuring an officer, and threw stones at Palestinian cars after IDF forces in the area mobilized in that settlers thought was an effort to raze a West Bank outpost.

Meanwhile, on Thursday five people arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of involvement in price tag attacks against Palestinian property were ordered held for another 24 hours by the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court. Their arrest led to clashes between right-wing activists and police in Jerusalem.

Also on Thursday during a meeting with settlement leaders and rabbis, Israeli President Shimon Peres criticized the attacks against Palestinians and the IDF.

“There is no room for criminality, violation of the law and riotousness. It’s horrible to see our sons and daughters enter IDF bases and nearly kill an officer,” he reportedly said. He called the settlers actions “adding fuel to the fire” in the Middle East.

Boy allegedly set Jewish girl’s hair on fire after making slurs


A Canadian teenager was arrested for allegedly setting a Jewish classmate’s hair on fire after making anti-Semitic remarks.

Winnipeg police have charged the 15-year-old boy with assault with a weapon following an investigation of the Nov. 18 incident in the hallway of a local high school. Police say he confronted a 14-year-old girl and made the slurs before pulling out a cigarette lighter and singing her hair.

The girl did not suffer any serious physical injuries.

Police weren’t notified of the incident until Nov. 25 and arrested the boy on Dec. 4, CBC News reported.

Staff at the high school told the Winnipeg Free Press that the boy was suspended immediately, and he was later withdrawn from the school by his legal guardian.

Police said a possible hate crimes charge must be approved by Manitoba justice officials.

Investigators said the boy’s Facebook page contained posts of an “anti-Semitic” and “Nazi” nature. A school official said the teens had exchanges on social media prior to the incident.

Shelley Faintuch of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg called the incident “a shocking act of violence that must not be tolerated. The allegation that the attack may have been motivated by ant-Semitism makes it of special concern to the Jewish community, but in actual fact, an attack like this affects all communities.”

Alan Yusim of B’nai Brith Canada said the incident “tears at the fabric of the community. I think there should be zero tolerance for any hate-motivated activity in our schools.”

Dozens of fires break out in northern Israel


More than 40 fires broke out across northern Israel over the weekend, many of which are suspected arson attacks.

While some of the forest fires are being considered the result of negligence, many are being investigated as arson attacks due to their multiple sources of ignition, according to Haaretz.

Dozens of people in the western Galilee were evacuated from their homes and hundreds of acres of forests were destroyed, according to reports. Hot dry winds and warm temperatures caused the fires to spread quickly.

Fire trucks and firefighter aircrafts were called in to control the blazes.

An out-of-control fire in the Carmel Forest last December led to 44 deaths. In addition, 250 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, 17,000 people were forced to evacuate, more than 12,000 acres were burned and an estimated 5 million trees were lost.

Third suspect arrested in mosque arson


A third suspect has been arrested in the arson attack on a mosque in an Israeli-Arab town.

The suspect, reported to be a 17-year-old resident of Gush Etzion, was arrested Sunday in connection with the Oct. 2 attack on a mosque in the Upper Galilee Bedouin town of Tuba Zanghariya.

Two other suspects arrested shortly after the attack, both minors who studied at a West Bank yeshiva, were released a week ago due to lack of evidence directly linking them to the attack.

The third suspect allegedly also was involved in the arson of a West Bank mosque near Hebron in October 2010. He was ordered held until Thursday during a hearing Sunday in the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court.

A gag order on the case remains in place.

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