Harish synagogue fire 390.
(photo credit: Yigal Nachman Brodsky)
Anger and despair gripped many residents of the town of Harish on Sunday, the
day after a local synagogue was found completely gutted by a fire that broke out
early Saturday morning.
While police said Sunday they are sure the fire
was caused by an electrical short, some residents say they believe it was
intentionally set by unknown assailants looking to threaten the Breslov hassidic
community that worships at the synagogue.
The secretary of the local
Breslov hassidic community, Yitzhak Keshet, said the community is torn in terms
of who to blame, and he estimates that around half believe that the fire was
accidental and the rest believe foul play was involved.
Keshet said the
entire community fasted on Sunday, and that members feel “that their hearts were
burned, not only their synagogue.”
Like others, Keshet blames the local
council for the disaster, which he said refused to allow the Breslov community
to build a permanent structure for their synagogue.
Instead, in his
words, it was forced to use the building which burned down on Saturday, a
slapdash structure made of plywood and tarps. With electrical cables running
throughout the improvised structure that was packed with flammable holy books,
it is easy to imagine how faulty wiring or a wayward spark could start a fire
that would quickly engulf the synagogue.
Indeed, pictures taken by
residents rummaging through the ashes show almost total devastation, with only
the steel grate holding the Torah ark and supporting tables left
A local named “Mati,” who asked for his name not to be given,
said he believed that the fire was set by Arabs living in the town and nearby
Mati said that on a number of occasions local Arab youth have
set fire to cars belonging to haredi residents of Harish, and that they and
residents of the kibbutzim surrounding Harish want them to feel unwelcome in the
Harish has been the source of considerable controversy in recent
years, due to plans by a number of different bodies to turn it into a haredi
city to house tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox
Environmentalists, residents of the next door town of
Katzir-Harish, nearby kibbutzim and Arab villages have protested against the
plan, saying it is discriminatory, will damage the landscape and will adversely
affect the social make-up of the area.
Rabbi David Brand, who leads the
community of 45 Breslov families in Harish, said they have no way to rebuild the
facility, which was not only a synagogue, but also served as a Beit Midrash and
kollel, a Jewish learning institute for married men, throughout the
The rabbi said “there are suspicions in the community” about what
caused the fire, but he refused to elaborate. He added however that the
congregation “has no choice but to rebuild, with our own hands.”