Synagogue Burns Down In Moscow


May 10, 2005

A fire roared through a synagogue in a Moscow suburb early Tuesday, burning down much of the wooden structure in an incident that Jewish leaders blamed on anti-Semitism.

The synagogue in the town of Malakhovka, 12 miles southeast of Moscow caught fire at about 6 a.m., and the flames quickly engulfed the entire one-story building. Firefighters were unable to prevent damage to the building's interior and roof.

Investigators at the scene said the fire was likely an accident, although the cause was not immediately clear.

"So far we haven't found any obvious indication that it was arson," local police official Kalin Batrov told The Associated Press.

But Jewish leaders called it a hate crime.

"The fire was caused by arson (committed) out of religious hatred," said Borukh Gorin, a spokesman for the Federation of Russia's Jewish Organizations, told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Russia's chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, said on state-run Rossiya television that he believed it was arson and that if that was confirmed, the culprits must be caught and punished. "In my opinion there is no place for this in today's Russia," he said.

Concerns about anti-Semitism in Russia have risen in recent years. Many rights groups accuse Russian leaders of being silent in the face of religious intolerance and xenophobia, expressed in the occasional desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues and more frequent skinhead attacks against foreigners.

Lazar said public discussion of an openly anti-Semitic appeal by nationalist lawmakers in January aimed at outlawing all Jewish organizations has created a dangerous atmosphere. Russian authorities have ignored calls by human rights groups to prosecute the lawmakers.

"I think it sent a new message, (created) a new understanding that yes, in Russia, you can act on ethnic grounds, you can do whatever you want," Lazar told NTV television in comments from the charred ruins of the synagogue.

Grigory Amromin, whose family had attended the synagogue since the 1940s, wandered around the gutted building in despair.

"I can barely resist tears. Here you were in peace," he said. "This is such a huge part of life that has been cut off."

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