RUTHERFORD, NJ (CBSNewYork) – Authorities are investigating a firebombing of a northern New Jersey home attached to a synagogue as attempted murder and bias-related arson.
The fire was reported around 4:30 a.m. Wednesday at Congregation Beth El in Rutherford.
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reports
Rabbi Nosson Schuman and his wife say someone threw an explosive device through the bedroom window of their home on the second floor of the Temple Beth El synagogue in Rutherord. The couple live with their five children.
“We just woke up to flames roaring through my window and my quilt caught on fire,” he told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan. “I really think by the grace of God the fire did go out and when it came through the window it did not come on our faces. It went on the blankets.”
“Incendiary devices were used to attempt to start of a fire in the upstairs portion of the structure which is a residence,” Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli told 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg.
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reports
“It was almost like a dragon’s breath,” Schuman told Sandberg.
Schuman said damage to his home and congregation were minimal.
“My quilt was on fire. I had to put it out,” he told WCBS 880’s essay writer Sean Adams. “Got the kids out and realized that this must have been a continuation of the hate crimes that have been occurring throughout the area.”
Schuman grabbed a fire extinguisher and suffered burns to his hands, but neighbors said he is doing okay.
“I ran to get the kids, started screaming, then got my father-in-law in the attic,” said Pessy Schuman, the rabbi’s wife.
Police believe more than one person hurled several molotav cocktails and lit aerosal canisters, with one of them crashing through the rabbi’s bedroom window, melting his blinds and lighting up his bed while he and his wife were sleeping.
“We are not assuming this was committed by one it could have been two or more individuals,” said Molinelli.
LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports
Authorities say multiple devices were tossed at the home, including Molotov cocktails and rigged aerosol cans. All appeared as if they were being aimed at the second floor of the house.
Molinelli is convinced the rabbi was targeted because of his Orthodox Jewish faith.
“This is certainly a hate crime. This is certainly a bias crime. This is aggravated arson, but most importantly, we’re now looking on this as an attempted homicide,” he said.
Schuman also believes he was a target of hate.
“I think they wanted to make a big statement and kill a Jewish leader,” he said.
It comes just one day before a meeting between representatives of more than 80 synagogues, law enforcement and some Jewish day schools to discuss several incidents targeting Jewish temples in Bergen County.
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond on the upcoming meeting
The crimes have shaken the community, but Rabbi Neal Borovitz with the Jewish Federation of northern New Jersey says the police are doing all they can.
“Right after the first attack in Maywood, the chief of police in River Edge, where my synagogue is located, called me to remind me ‘Rabbi, I know you guys turn your lights off to save energy. I want you to keep them on all night,'” he told WCBS 880 reporter Marla Diamond. “We have to be more vigilant without being paranoid.”
He admits it’s been a tough balancing act.
“We hope that this will somehow be the end of it,” said Joy Kurland, who heads the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
But she’s realistic.
“What we’re basically trying to assist with is having these respective institutions improve, if necessary, their particular security apparatus,” she said.
Members of New Jersey’s Department of Homeland Security will also provide advice at the meeting.
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