Congregation Vows To Rebuild
Jun. 19, 1999
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ With their synagogue damaged and library gutted by arson, the congregation of B'nai Israel crowded into a downtown theater to hold services in the wake of their loss.
``We must find room, despite the horror of hatred, to celebrate the Sabbath,'' Rabbi Brad Bloom told some 700 members and supporters who gathered for Friday evening prayers at the Sacramento Community Theater.
Early that morning, arsonists struck three of the Sacramento area's five synagogues in attacks that were reported within minutes of each other. There were no injuries.
Hardest hit shortly after 3 a.m. was B'nai Israel, about three miles south of the state Capitol. Fires were reported moments later at two suburban synagogues _ Congregation Beth Shalom and the Kenesset Israel. Both suffered moderate damage.
B'nai Israel's library was nearly destroyed by the flames. The losses included 5,000 volumes, some of them hundreds of years old, and about 300 Jewish historical videos.
``When they burned the library,'' Bloom said, ``it was more serious than burning the sanctuary. All the books, all the books gone.''
At Friday services, synagogue librarian Poshi Mikalson held up the ashes of a burned book.
``I promise you: From these ashes we will rise again,'' she said as the audience cheered.
Mikalson added that some volumes were saved because ``some of you checked out books this summer. I want to thank all of you who have overdue books.''
Investigators say they have no suspects. Scores of federal agents are working on the case, the FBI said.
A flier blaming the ``International Jewsmedia'' for the war in Kosovo was found at the Kenesset Israel Torah Center, KOVR-TV reported.
``We are Slavs, we will never allow the International Jew World Order to take our Land,'' the flier read. ``We fight to keep Serbia free forever.''
The arsons stunned a clergyman at Sacramento's only Serbian church.
``Our church and our people have nothing to do with this act of terror, this act of hate,'' said the Rev. Dobrivoje Milunovic of the Serbian Orthodox Church of the Assumption. ``Our prayers and thoughts are with the members of the Jewish congregations whose temples have been burned.''
In April, the FBI investigated a Serb-language letter faxed to Milunovic's church and several other U.S. Orthodox churches urging terrorist strikes on U.S. military installations.
Milunovic said he found Friday's events difficult to understand because Serbs and Jews have gotten along well for centuries. Many Jews found refuge in Serbia during the Holocaust, he said.
The attack is the second at B'nai Israel in six years. The synagogue was among the targets of firebombings aimed at minority groups in the Sacramento area in July 1993. A 17-year-old white separatist was convicted for the crimes.
A national arson task force documented 670 attacks on houses of worship between January 1995 and September 1998. Of those, 33 were in California and one occurred at a Baptist church in Sacramento.
``It is pretty rare, generally speaking, for three synagogues to be hit all in a row like this,'' said Jonathan Bernstein of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. ``It's obviously a sign that there was planning involved.''