Police discovered before dawn Saturday morning, the day after Rosh HaShanah, that the car of a synagogue leader was engulfed in flames, but fire official immediately discounted suspicion of arson.
The car belonged to David Kushner, who serves as spiritual leader of the southern New Jersey synagogue though he is not an ordained rabbi. Kushner, who runs a wedding hall in Lakewood, N.J., learned about the fire when he showed up for Sabbath services the next morning.
The fire caused severe damage to the parking lot and the outer walls of the Orthodox Rodef Shalom synagogue, according to the Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia.
“The car had been towed overnight immediately after the incident by the Fire Department for further investigation, so I saw charred remains,” Kushner told the Jewish Exponent, which quoted Kushner as saying that firemen were examining whether the blaze was a hate crime.
The Atlantic City Press reported that fire chief Dennis Brook said, “There’s nothing that’s standing out. Car fires are car fires.”
Medical equipment inside was destroyed, and there were some explosions from oxygen tanks inside the vehicle.
At the risk of looking for anti-Semitism behind every theft or fire of Jewish property, isn’t it kind of strange that a fire chief would say that a parked car suddenly would burst into flames?
Or did the sound of the shofar set off sparks in the car battery?
“Given the fact that it happened on the synagogue property, on … the high holidays, leaves a lot of room for suspicion,” said Kushner.
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) regional director Nancy Baron-Baer, the told the Jewish Exponent, “The fact that in America in 2014, a rabbi’s car parked at his synagogue during Rosh Hashanah services could be engulfed in flames and the subject of arson is beyond comprehension.”
The Atlantic City Press noted that there is no history of anti-Semitic incidents at Rodef Shalom.
JTA contributed to this report.