The anti-Zionist group Neturei Karta is a source of tension in this heavily Jewish community north of New York City. They routinely burn the Israeli flag. They pray for the end of the Jewish state. A few members even traveled to Iran to participate in a Holocaust-denial conference.
The group's synagogue was burned down on the eve of Passover, and a Neturei Karta leader said the fire was deliberately set to target members because of their anti-Israeli views.
"They have threatened us, they have warned us, they have harassed us," said Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss. "This fire is a desecration of God's name."
Authorities were quick to say the fire was suspicious in the hours after the Sunday night blaze, but they backed off Monday afternoon as they got a closer look at the charred house. Peter Brower, chief of the Ramapo Police Department, said that although officials had not ruled anything out, nothing emerged from the initial investigation to indicate that arson was the cause. No sign of accelerants was found, he said.
No one was injured in the fire. A senior Neturei Karta rabbi and his family, who lived on the top floor of the three-story, century-old structure, were not home.
The fire gutted the building, and charred prayer books were strewn across the front lawn Monday afternoon. The writing works of the rabbi who lived there were believed to be destroyed.
"They are crazy, but no one should burn down their synagogue," Holocaust survivor Shei Kormblue said as his family members were busy making matzo for Passover. "God will punish whoever needs punishment. It's not up to us."
The Neturei Karta has been the target of threats in the past because of its involvement in the anti-Zionism movement.
Members oppose Israel because they believe there should not be a Jewish state until the Messiah comes and leads them to the promised land. They do not dispute that the Holocaust took place, but they believe Israelis have used the Holocaust to gain sympathy and advantage.
Neturei Karta members are often seen heckling marchers in annual Israel Day parades in New York. They have appeared publicly with many critics of Israel, including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The trip to Iran late last year by five members of the group sent outrage soaring to new levels. Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust a "myth" and said Israel should be "wiped off the face of the map."
Still, with a membership estimated to be only in the thousands, the Neturei Karta are generally tolerated or ignored, although they were greeted with a large protest at the Monsey synagogue upon their return from Iran.
"Ninety-five percent of us in the community don't agree with them, but we don't shun them," said David Abromevitz. "We know who they are. They send their kids to our schools and shop in our stores."
Monsey is an ultra-Orthodox community about 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of New York City. The streets are dotted with signs in both Hebrew and English, and businesses with names like "Jerusalem Auto Body" and "Kol Tov Pizzeria" are a frequent sight.
Weiss called it a "tragedy" that so many holy books went up in flames. "A part of our heart and soul was taken away," he said.
Neturei Karta members are often confused with the Satmars, who have a huge community in the nearby village of Kiryas Joel. But there is no connection between the two groups
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