Fire Set at Union City Jewish Girls’ School
Written by Adam Weiss   

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Police Chief Everett, Mayor Stack and Rabbi Turner discuss the attack on the Bnos Sanz school.

An arson attack was reported at Union City's Bnos Sanz (“Daughters of Sanz”), the girls’ school associated with the Klausenburg-Sanz Jewish community, on the evening of April 22, 2009 at approximately 9 p.m. The city's Klausenburg-Sanz community consists of approximately 100-200 families and is a branch of the chasidic group centered in Netanya, Israel, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The fire, first spotted by a 5-year-old girl looking out her window, appears to have been set by two men who piled 2 x 4 planks and a school desk into an enclosed area beneath the school’s front steps, set it ablaze, and ran off. A video camera captured images of the perpetrators; Union City police are seeking information from the public as to their identities.

By coincidence, the girl’s father is a member of the Union City Hatzolah EMS, a rescue squad sponsored by the Klausenburg-Sanz community, and is often a first responder to calls for help within the community and surrounding neighborhoods. He happened to have had a fire extinguisher at the ready, and contained the conflagration before the Union City Fire Department and other members of Hatzolah arrived.

Fire damage was minor, and there were no injuries. Classes resumed as normal yesterday morning.

At present it is not clear whether the attack was a random act of vandalism or whether the Klausenburg-Sanz community — or the Jewish community in general — was targeted intentionally.

“We’d rather it was a few idiots than an attack on the community,” said Rabbi Hersch Turner, director of the Bnos Sanz school as well as chaplain to the Union City Police Department. His sentiment was echoed by other Klausenburg-Sanz residents and by local law enforcement officials. Union City Mayor Brian Stack was on the scene the following morning to express solidarity with the Klausenburg-Sanz community and to see the damage for himself. He was accompanied by Union City Police Chief Charles Everett.

Contrary to initial reports, there is no evidence that the fire was a “cross burning.” “At this point it doesn’t look like a ‘hate crime’ but it’s too early to say,” said Solomon Nussenzweig, Supervisor of the Bnos Sanz school and a member of Hatzolah. Police officials are hopeful that the culprits will be identified shortly.

When asked if there was anything that the broader community could do to assist, Turner replied without hesitation that the best thing would be to contribute to the Union City Hatzolah, which is in need of a new ambulance. (The word “hatzolah” comes from the Hebrew “lehatzel” meaning “to rescue.”) At present the organization operates two ambulances, manned by approximately a dozen trained Klausenburg-Sanz Emergency Medical Technicians. However, one of the ambulances is in need of replacement by more modern equipment.

“We’re here to help anyone in any situation” said Nussenzweig. “And of course, all are welcome to visit for Shabbat.”