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FBI offering $20,000 reward in probe of fires at Chabad centers in Arlington and Needham

(FBI)

The FBI is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons who set fire to Jewish centers in Arlington and Needham in May, in a crime wave that shocked both towns and prompted a massive solidarity rally in response to the anti-Semitic attacks.

In a statement Tuesday, the FBI announced the reward and released surveillance footage of a hooded man, who the bureau said “may have information relevant to the investigation into several arsons at Chabad Centers in Massachusetts.” The Anti-Defamation League is offering an additional $15,000 reward, a spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.

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The FBI provided a recap of the incidents.

“On May 11, 2019, at approximately 11:00 p.m., authorities were alerted to a fire at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life of Arlington-Belmont in Arlington, Massachusetts,” according to the release. “Five days later, on May 16, 2019, at approximately 8:50 p.m., authorities were alerted to another fire at the same Chabad Center. Later that evening, just before 10:00 p.m., authorities responded to a fire at the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center in Needham, Massachusetts.”

No one was hurt in any of the fires.

“At the time of the incidents, surveillance footage captured an unknown male, approximately 5’11”, slowly walking to and from the locations where the fires were set,” according to the statement. “The man appears to be wearing a dark North Face jacket with the hood pulled over his head and khaki pants. He is also seen carrying unknown items in each hand.”

In the Arlington video, the FBI said, “three different cameras show the unknown male walking down Lake Street in the immediate vicinity of the Chabad Center at the time of the fire. In the Needham video, the same man walks in front of the Chabad Center towards the area where the fire was set. Approximately one minute and forty seconds later, he turns abruptly, looks back in the direction of the fire, and walks towards the street and down the sidewalk.”

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Anyone with information relevant to the ongoing probe should call the FBI Boston Division at 857-386-2000.

State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey’s office in May described the Arlington fires as “arson fires” and said the Needham blaze was “intentionally set.” All three fires were quickly put out.

Supporters of the targeted centers packed a solidarity gathering in May at Arlington Town Hall. In a Twitter message, Arlington police posted photos of the capacity crowd.

“There is a full room at Arlington Town Hall tonight, showing the strength and unity of the community, in response to the recent fires at the home of a Rabbi,” police tweeted at the time.

The Police Department’s comments were echoed by Robert Trestan, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Boston office, who spoke at the rally and later tweeted out a defiant message against bigotry.

“In [the] aftermath of three arson attacks on the Jewish community in #Arlington & #Needham,” he wrote, “we will not back down. We will not be silenced. We will not go away. We will not be intimidated. #antisemitism will never defeat us.”

Anti-Semitic violence has been rising sharply over the past several years, a disturbing trend that includes the deadliest attack on Jewish people in the United States ever, the October shooting at a temple in Pittsburgh that killed 11 worshipers. The ADL recently released its Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, which counted 144 incidents in Massachusetts in 2018. That’s the second highest on record, surpassed only by 2017 when there were 177.

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Chabad houses are the center of religious and social life of the Lubavitch Hasidic movement. The Chabad Center for Jewish Life Arlington-Belmont describes itself on its website as “a place where Judaism is celebrated joyfully and meaningfully, where Judaism sheds relevant perspective to our daily lives.”

The Chabad Jewish Center in Needham has worshipers from suburban communities including Needham, Dedham, Dover, and Westwood, and says on its website that it is “dedicated to serving the Jewish community with Ahavas Yisroel — an unconditional love and concern for every Jew, regardless of age, background, affiliation, or level of observance.”


Deanna Pan of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.