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Spate of synagogue arson attacks in Brooklyn rattles Jewish community

NYPD received reports of fires at seven Jewish schools and synagogues.

Rabbi Mark Sameth gestures as he thanks members of the Brooklyn Jewish community while NYPD officers stand guard at the door of the Union Temple of Brooklyn on November 2, 2018 in New York City. (Credit: KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Rabbi Mark Sameth gestures as he thanks members of the Brooklyn Jewish community while NYPD officers stand guard at the door of the Union Temple of Brooklyn on November 2, 2018 in New York City. (Credit: KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Less than a week after a gunman entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 worshippers in what has been described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history, reports of numerous synagogue arson attacks have left the Jewish community in Brooklyn reeling.

The New York Police Department received reports of fires at seven locations in the borough’s South Williamsburg area Friday morning, all of them Jewish schools or synagogues. Later in the day, NYPD reportedly arrested a man, 26-year-old James Polite, who is suspected of setting the fires.

Police charged Polite with numerous other anti-Semitic incidents in the same neighborhood, including vandalism of a Brooklyn Height’s brownstone and the Union Temple in Prospect Heights, where comedian Ilana Glazer was scheduled to speak Thursday evening. The event was cancelled after a congregant found graffiti on the walls that said “Jews Better Be Ready” and “Die Jew Rats We Are Here.”

In another incident in Crown Heights on October 30, three teenagers reportedly threatened to stab a Jewish man and allegedly said they would “kill all Jews.”

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According to the NYPD, the city has seen a considerable increase in hate crimes this year, with 50 percent of them directed toward Jewish people. These statistics coincide with national data.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there has been a 60 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents from 2016 to 2017, “the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking such data in 1979.”

In the days following the Pittsburgh shooting, anti-Semitic incidents have been reported across the country. In Nelsonville, New York, a house was vandalized with swastika graffiti Wednesday. And on Monday, an Illinois man was arrested and charged with a hate crime after calling a synagogue and making threats in reference to the Pittsburgh shooting.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers and candidates for office have continued campaigns using anti-Semitic dog-whistles, including smearing liberal Jewish philanthropist George Soros and drawing parallels between well-known Jews in Hollywood and their supposed influence in the upcoming midterm elections.