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Op-Ed: Arson Intifada hits Netanya; Synagogue balcony up in flames

Arsonists attacked the balcony of the Chabad House on Be’eri Street in Netanya, Israel. Rachel Avraham, JerusalemOnline’s news editor and political analyst, prays at this synagogue and lives down the street from it. She described how she and her family reacted to the Arson Intifada striking her neighborhood!
Damage to Chabad House on Be'eri Street in Netanya Photo Credit: Shachar Avraham

The Arson Intifada that has caused massive damage in Haifa and the greater Jerusalem area has struck the peaceful Mediterranean coastal city of Netanya. On Friday afternoon, my husband Shachar picked up our daughter Lilach from pre-school like he does every Friday afternoon and passed by the Chabad House on Be’eri Street while walking home.  While walking by, he noticed that the balcony of the Chabad synagogue that we usually attend was on fire.  He took a picture of what he witnessed and then saw that a couple of fire trucks approached the synagogue.  Given that Israel is presently witnessing a wave of arson attacks, my husband feared the worst but being the cautious person that he is, he reserved judgement for later. When he got home, he told me what he had witnessed.

Later on that night, my husband and I walked to the Chabad synagogue on Be’eri Street like we normally do on Friday nights, as if nothing had happened.   Since my parents are visiting me in Israel because I just gave birth to a baby boy, we were a bit late to the prayer.  However, being the curious person that I am, I asked an 8-year-old child what had happened. Unfortunately, almost all of the women usually come late to the prayers due to the Shabbat preparations that they must do and even though I was late, on that day, no woman came before me and thus heard the announcements. Since only children travel back and forwards between the men’s section and the women’s section, the only person I could ask being a woman was a child. He told me that a cigarette caused the balcony to go on fire.  Since he was a child, he could not provide me more details.

It was for this child’s own good that he did not comprehend exactly what happened surrounding him.  It could traumatize him and no one wants a child to experience that.  But I am a journalist.   I had to know details about what exactly happened down the street from my home.  So I asked my husband to ask the men in the synagogue what happened.  On Shabbat, we got the answer.   It was an arson attack.  Someone entered into a pre-school in the area and from the pre-school, threw an inflammable material at the synagogue. This person then lit up the synagogue with a cigarette.  The culprits were most probably Arab terrorists.  Fortunately, the firefighters arrived in time and as a result, the fire only damaged the synagogue balcony outside and did not harm the inside of the synagogue.  It was a true miracle that the door to the balcony had been sealed shut for some time and this blocked the fire from entering inside of the synagogue.  On top of that, since the incident happened on a Friday afternoon, no one was inside of the synagogue and thus no one got hurt.  Nevertheless, it was still an arson attack targeting a synagogue that occurred down the street from my home.

Different people react to the news of an arson attack occurring down the street from their home differently.  Both my husband and I have a strong faith in G-d so we tend to always look at things from the bright side.  Therefore, we believe that it was a miracle that despite everything, we still had a place to pray this last Shabbat and nothing was damaged except for the synagogue balcony. We believe that G-d was looking out for us by ensuring that the door to the balcony was broken and thus sealed shut.  Given everything that is happening in Haifa and the greater Jerusalem area, with numerous homes and businesses burning to the ground, causing 527 homes to be deemed uninhabitable and the damage to buildings and homes in Haifa alone estimated to be worth 500 million NIS, it is miraculous that nothing worse happened.  However, other people like my parents were a bit more panicked.   My mother felt literally ill from the idea that the Arson Intifada also hit Netanya and pondered whether it was safe for my father and her to travel around the country while they visit me.  My mother is trying to mentally block out what surrounds her for her own sanity since she is a very sensitive person.   My father is a bit stronger than my mother but he too is very alarmed. As American Jews visiting Israel, they are a bit in culture shock about the atmosphere of fear and the wave of violent terror attacks under which the average Israeli lives.  However, as Israelis, we have gotten used to this.  Israel is our home and we refuse to leave the land of milk and honey just because there are horrible people that are trying to destroy our lives here for in the end of the day, the brightness of our desire to live in our land will outshine the darkness that these terrorists represent.  We just have to be patient for that day.

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JOL Blogger | Rachel Avraham

Rachel holds a masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University and a BA in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland. She is the author of Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media.


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