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.

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.

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.

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.

First Rough Draft


Over the next few months, Jewish life is going to get a lot more interesting than most of us would like. It’s summer, and we’re in for a hot one.

Last year around this time, alert readers recall, right-wing extremists were burning down synagogues in Sacramento. This year they’re doing it in Jerusalem.

Then there’s that looming deadline in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. They’re supposed to conclude a framework agreement in September that defines their long-term relationship. Until then you can bet they’ll be fighting like cats and dogs over every stone. They’re playing for keeps now.

Making sense of this sturm und drang won’t be easy. CNN and your local metropolitan daily will be feeding us one story after another, beginning with a crash and ending with a boom. By August we’ll be ready to swear Israel and all of Jewish history are headed down the tubes. They aren’t, of course, but where do you turn for a reality check?

Odds are, most of you will turn to the newspaper that’s in your hands right now. Yes, to your humble, homely Jewish community journal. While other news organs flit fashionably from crisis to crisis, your hometown Jewish paper will be thinking through the issues of Jewish life in-depth. Here, threaded in among the synagogue announcements and Bar Mitzvah notices, is where you’ll find the first rough draft of Jewish history. That’s this paper’s only job.

It’s not an easy job, Jewish journalism. The pay is low. Resources are few. There’s pressure from advertisers who want their products and causes to look good. Federations and Jewish agencies have an agenda they think should be yours. Toughest of all are the readers, who tend to want Jewish life depicted the way they think it ought to be.

Other newspapers are in business to depict the world of daily life. We depict the world of our faith and our dreams. That’s a lot of pressure.

Newspapers have a duty, protected by no less than the U.S. Constitution, to expose the doings of the mighty and let the public know where their tax dollars are going. We’re supposed to respect nothing but the truth.

This is a tall order when you’re talking to a community that views its institutions as sacred. Most Jews want to feel good about their communities. Bad news we don’t want. Not about our loved ones. Who would? In fact, Jewish journalism in America traditionally began with a very different assumption.

The first Jewish periodical, The Jew, launched in New York in 1823 by Solomon Henry Jackson, saw its mission as defending the good name of American Jews at a time when few others would do so. If there was wrongdoing to be exposed, it was the wrong done by the world to the Jews. Jackson’s many successors took pretty much the same approach

In time, of course, the American Jewish community grew big enough and unruly enough to merit some muckraking of its own. By then, though, American Jews had found a way to talk privately among themselves: Yiddish newspapers. The first, Yiddish Tageblatt, was launched in New York in 1885. By World War I there were more than a dozen Yiddish papers with a combined circulation of 600,000. They were brash, gutsy and extremely rude to one another. It didn’t matter, because nobody else could read them.Today, American Jews are in a curious position. We’ve become the biggest, most powerful community in Diaspora Jewish history, and yet we no longer have a common language – literally and figuratively – to thrash out our business. Now, when we need more than ever to understand one another, we find it harder than ever to talk to one another.

Here’s the dilemma that English-language Jewish journalism struggles with, week after week. On one hand, we want to record the full range of Jewish experience as it’s happening. On the other hand, we don’t want to do harm. It’s a delicate balancing act. None of us has it down perfectly, though we all try.

For the past three years, your faithful correspondent has had the rare privilege of thinking out these dilemmas with you on a national stage, through the vehicle of a syndicated column. Starting in a half-dozen weeklies, the column grew to two dozen papers in America and Israel. Their editors have given me an astounding freedom to cross boundaries and ask questions most journalists don’t get to tackle.I’ve talked with folks from every walk of Jewish life – prime ministers and pop stars, cantors, cabdrivers and even a few cardinals – and shared what they had to say with the rest of you. My own point of view hasn’t been a secret, but I’ve tried hard to let others talk for themselves. I wanted this to be a conversation among people who don’t usually get to meet.

Alas, all things must end. Starting in July, I’m crossing one more boundary to start work as an editor, at the New York-based weekly Forward. It’s a paper with a rich tradition, and the privilege of working there is humbling. In the news business, though, the paper keeps coming out. One writer leaves, another comes in. What remains is the conversation – between readers, writers, editors – that helps makes sense of the world out there. Thanks.

J.J. Goldberg has written a weekly column for The Jewish Journal several years now. This, alas, is his last column for us.

Hate Crime


Images of Holocaust-era synagogue torchings were invoked after a Conservative shul in Jerusalem was set on fire over the weekend.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak led a call for greater tolerance in Israeli society after vandals hurled gasoline-soaked flaming rags into the synagogue Saturday night, setting ablaze sections of the main sanctuary and destroying several chairs and prayer books.Nobody was injured in the attack at Kehillat Ya’ar Ramot, and the synagogue’s three Torah scrolls were unharmed.

Police have not arrested any suspects.Shmuel Ben-Ruby, spokesman for the Jerusalem police, said an investigation had been launched.”We do not think this is the start of a wave of attacks on the Conservative and Reform movements,” he added.

The attack follows two recent unsolved attacks on Conservative synagogues.Police were unable to find those responsible for attempting to burn down the front door of Kehillat Ya’ar Ramot just a few weeks ago – an attack that the Conservative movement blamed on fervently Orthodox Jews.

Last week, the windows of the Eshel Avraham Synagogue in Beersheba were smashed.And a year ago, the Ya’ar Ramot Synagogue was sprayed with graffiti promising to “turn your Purim into Tisha B’Av,” referring to a Jewish holidayof joy and one of sorrow.Barak said the latest incident is “an awful act that causes every Jew toshudder.”It is “seven times more shocking when it occurs in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish People,” the premier added.Rabbi Michael Melchior, minister for Israeli society and world Jewish communities, said after the attack, “Intolerance that leads to violence is a worrisome symptom in Israeli society.”Just as we protest attacks on synagogues across Europe, we must be forceful in our condemnation of this act and exhaust all measures necessary tobring the perpetrators to justice,” he added.

Rabbi Andy Sacks, director of the Conservative movxement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, was passing near the synagogue just minutes after the blaze began.He entered the building and fell to his stomach to avoid the thick smoke.”My first reaction was to see if the fire was near the Torah scrolls, and at the same time thoughts of the Holocaust flashed through my head,” he said.”I have seen synagogues that have been burned, but have never been inside one as it burned.”On Sunday, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, broke the silence from Orthodox officials on the issue. He, too, invoked imagery from the Holocaust to hammer his point home.”We have already learned that book burning, in several places in Europe, preceded the burning of people,” he told Israel Radio.

Lau said he “condemned in a sharp and aggressive way” all violence, including attacks on “a building dedicated to prayers of one or another” religious stream.”This has no connection to our opinions on the issue of the Judaic streams,” he said. “This is related to the fundamental thing on the top of our agenda – the war against violence.”Sacks, who earlier in the day had complained about the failure of Israel’s political or Orthodox leaders to condemn the attack, said Lau’s statements marked the first time a chief rabbi strongly condemned violence against the non-Orthodox streams.

“It’s a welcome development,” said Sacks. “I hope that his words will send a message to those who consider violence a legitimate means of achieving their goals.”

Sacks also called on Orthodox leaders to meet with their non-Orthodox counterparts to launch a dialogue to promote tolerance.