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3 Fires at Jewish Centers in Massachusetts Were “Intentionally Set”

Two were at a rabbi's house — and one at a nearby Jewish center.

by Tess Owen
May 17 2019, 6:13pm

Three fires — two at a rabbi’s house and one at a nearby Jewish center — were intentionally set, Massachusetts state officials said Friday.

At around 10 p.m on Thursday night, police and firefighters in Needham, Massachusetts, about 20 miles from Boston, responded to reports of a fire at the Chabad Jewish Center. By the time they arrived, the fire on the side of the building had been extinguished by the caller. Police said they were investigating that fire as a possible hate crime.

About one hour earlier and 30 minutes away in Arlington, police and firefighters had responded to reports of a fire at Rabbi Avi Burkiet’s home, which also functions as a community Chabad center.

The fire, which was on the home’s exterior wood shingles, was small, and firefighters were able to put it out using a hand-held extinguisher. It was the second time in less than a week that firefighters had responded to Burkiet’s home, which he shares with his wife and three children. Days earlier, on Saturday around 11 p.m., police responded to a fire alarm at Buriet’s residence.

“We smelled a lot of smoke,” Burkiet told Boston-25 News after the first fire. “There was a ton of smoke inside the basement going up to the first floor.”

Police in Needham and Arlington said Friday that they’re working together to determine whether the fires were connected. They’ve also asked the public’s help in locating a possible suspect, seen in surveillance footage on Saturday.

“Arson fire causes fear and anxiety in the community, but one in a house of worship especially so,” State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey’s office said in a statement and added that there are “steps that houses of worship can take to protect themselves.”

The fire department also released suggestions, such as to “keep shrubbery and trees trimmed, so the building can be observed by passing patrols” and painting the exterior of a building white, so that a trespasser can be more easily observed.

The fires in Massachusetts come the same week that police said the Diyanet Mosque in New Haven, Connecticut, was intentionally on fire. The FBI is now investigating the fire as possible arson. The fire at the mosque tore through parts of the building on Sunday, the seventh day of Ramadan.

Cover image: Screenshot from surveillance footage provided by police

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