Hate crime? Terrorism? Or just madness? Nobody seems to know. But this is happening just a few blocks from my home — I’ve seen the flames and heard the sirens, and it’s all deeply disturbing:
Somebody has been burning down new homes in a New York City neighborhood populated by Bukharian Jews, and police aren’t sure whether the victims are being targeted for their religion, their architectural taste or for no reason at all. Over the past six weeks an arsonist has torched six buildings in the same tight-knit section of the Forest Hills neighborhood in eastern Queens, police say. Four of the fires hit homes that were still under construction, including one house that was burned twice. The arsonist’s motive is still a mystery. One theory is that he is targeting opulent, oversized homes that have been replacing the neighborhood’s modest dwellings. Another holds that the person behind the fires is just disturbed. At one fire scene, someone left behind an encrypted note apparently intended to throw off investigators. Police say they don’t have evidence suggesting that the arsons are hate crimes, but the fact that most of the victims have been Bukharian Jews, a group that fled persecution in Central Asia, has the neighborhood on edge.
“I don’t know what to think,” said Rabbi Zalman Zvulonov, whose future home, still under construction, was torched early Monday morning — the second time it was targeted in three weeks. “There are only Jewish houses burning so that tells you something. But I couldn’t point a finger. I don’t know.”