Israeli flag burned at Northampton synagogue

Last modified: Friday, August 08, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Police are investigating a report of an attempt to burn an Israeli flag that flies in front of the Congregation B’nai Israel.

Police said the damage was reported about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and appears to be the result of a direct flame applied to the flag, possibly from a cigarette lighter. The flag was attached to the pole at the time, and a small portion of the flag burned, while the rest remained intact, police said.

Rabbi Justin David was out of state Thursday and not available by telephone but provided the Gazette with a letter he sent to members of the congregation in which he said the damage to the flag itself was minor, but the incident itself was “disturbing.”

David suggested the vandalism may have been done by someone critical of Israel’s role in the current war in Gaza.

“Certainly, there are those in our community — in our synagogue community as well as Northampton generally — who are critical of Israel’s war in Gaza,” David wrote. “But, while people are entitled to their opinions and welcome to express them, there is no excuse for committing damage to property. Critique is legitimate, vandalism is criminal.”

David said there will be extra surveillance by police around the temple to ensure it remains safe.

Congregation B’nai Israel Executive Director Ben Cuperman said the damage is small and could have been done a day or a week ago, but was only spotted Wednesday.

Cuperman said he couldn’t speculate on who may have burned the flag or what their reason may have been, but he did say he doesn’t believe it’s a member of the congregation.

“All you have to do is look around and see what’s happening in the world and you can come to your own conclusions,” Cuperman said when asked about a potential motive for the burning.

Northampton Police Detective Alan Borowski said there was no message or graffiti left that would indicate the motivation of the perpetrator.

Without more information, Borowski said the incident is being handled as a vandalism case and not a hate crime, but that could change.

Cuperman said he was very surprised about the attempted burning and said he doesn’t recall any damage or vandalism to the temple any time recently.

“It’s just something you don’t expect to see,” he said.

On Thursday, an undamaged Israeli flag with the light blue Star of David was flying over the synagogue’s front lawn. “One of our members rushed right over and offered a replacement flag,” Cuperman said. He said the damaged flag will be buried according to custom.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.