‘We are hurting’: Suspicious fires at Jewish centers in Arlington, Needham under investigation

NEEDHAM, MASS. (WHDH) - Federal, state, and local investigators are working to determine if suspicious fires that were recently set at a local rabbi’s home in Arlington and at a Jewish center in Needham are connected acts of hate.

An officer responding to 129 Lake St. in Arlington around 9 p.m. Thursday noticed light flames coming from one side of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, where Rabbi Avi Burkiet’s lives with his wife. The officer used a handheld fire extinguisher to put out the flames, which were confined to the wood shingles, according to police.

previous small fire was also found burning on the wood shingles late Monday night. A surveillance camera captured video of a suspicious person leaving the area of the Lake Street home following the incident.

Neither fire caused damage to the inside of the home, where Burkiet conducts religious services and classes.

“What has gone on, these past two incidents, it has targeted not just a Jewish center,” Burkiet said at a Friday press conference. “It has targeted our personal family and we are hurting because of this.”

Acting Arlington Police Chief Julie Flaherty called the fires a “direct assault on the community.”

Police and fire officials responding to a report of a fire on the exterior of the Chabad Jewish Center on High Rock Street in Needham around 10 p.m. on Thursday learned Rabbi Mendy Krinsky had extinguished the flames prior to their arrival, according to the Needham Police Department.

The fire was set to the lattice and vinyl siding on the side of the building, police said. They believe it was intentionally set ablaze.

There were no threats made and no graffiti on the building but the fire is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

“It’s shocking and it’s unacceptable,” Krinsky said. “You never think it could happen.”

A $20,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest and conviction, according to Anti-Defamation League Director Robert Trestan.

“There is an important need for this investigation to be concluded quickly to restore a sense of safety and security amongst the community,” he said.

The FBI, ATF, Massachusetts State Police, and State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey’s office are assisting local authorities with an investigation.

“The investigative team is bringing all necessary resources to these fires, which may or may not be connected,” a spokesperson for Ostroskey’s office said in a press release.

Anyone with information or who witnesses suspicious activity is asked to call Arlington police at 781-643-1212 or Needham police at 781-455-7570.

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