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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ryazan's Only Synagogue Torched in Arson Attack

A fire has destroyed the only synagogue in Ryazan in what a Jewish organization said was an arson attack.

The synagogue in Ryazan, about 150 kilometers south of Moscow, was ruined in a fire that began early Thursday. The local fire service determined the blaze was set, said a statement from the Federation of Jewish Communities, one of two main groups for Jews in Russia.

It was "a reprehensible act of anti-Semitism," said the statement from the group, which was funding renovations at the synagogue in hopes of having it ready in mid-September ahead of Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish new year.

Leonid Reznikov, the local Jewish community leader, said firefighters had quickly put out the blaze and nobody was hurt. He said builders have already started repairing the synagogue, which dates from 1903.

The attack comes amid concerns that anti-Semitism is rising in Russia. The law enshrines Judaism as one of the country's three "traditional" religions, along with Orthodox Christianity and Islam, but there have been repeated cases of bombings and vandalism at synagogues and Jewish cemeteries and attacks on Jews in recent years.

In September, the Jewish Day School in Ryazan was attacked by about 15 chain-wielding youths, who broke windows and furniture and assaulted teachers. Local authorities failed to denounce the incident, allowing the perpetrators to go unpunished, the FJC said.

"The government must condemn those who are committing these acts of violence and intolerance," said Berl Lazar, whom the FJC considers Russia's chief rabbi.

In a separate incident in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, a fire gutted a Jewish school for 550 children — believed to be the largest in Eastern Europe. The local fire service said the July 13 blaze was caused by arson in a barracks adjoining the school building.

The local authorities have refused to provide funds for the school's repairs and have banned the local Jewish community from restoring the building on their own, Pinkas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow, said Friday.

Mikhail Skoblionok, the head of the local Jewish community, said Kazan city authorities say the school needs a major overhaul and have banned the community from using it, even though independent experts have said the building only needs quick repairs. "The real reason behind the authorities' action is that they don't want a Jewish school in a predominantly Tatar region," Skoblionok said.

When the local community tried to fix the school's roof to prevent the building from being further damaged by rain, two dozen assailants led by officials from the city construction department broke into the premises, breaking everything that had been fixed, Skoblionok said.

He and Goldschmidt are affiliated with the Russian Jewish Congress, which considers Adolf Shayevich to be Russia's chief rabbi. Shayevich has invited Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to visit the school in Kazan during his trip to Russia planned for early September.

(AP, Reuters)