Harish synagogue burns, foul play suspected

Police: Fire caused by electrical short; Breslov community vows to rebuild.

Harish synagogue fire 390 (photo credit: Yigal Nachman Brodsky)
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 intact.
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 villages.
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 town.
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 families.
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 week.
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.”