Teen Arrested and Charged with Torching Synagogue

NY Post - May 18, 2017

by Tina Moore, Rebecca Rosenberg and Jennifer Bain

The blaze that gutted a landmarked Lower East Side synagogue was set by a 14-year-old firebug who had previously tried to torch the historic house of worship, law-enforcement sources said Wednesday.

David Diaz was with other teens inside the abandoned Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue when he allegedly set a curtain on fire Sunday night, according to the sources.

The flaming curtain fell onto some pews, causing the fire to quickly spread through the building, which was destroyed.

Several teens were caught on surveillance video fleeing the scene — and a female friend of the alleged arsonist gave him up to cops after they spotted her going to school on Tuesday.

Diaz was picked up at his Lower East Side home, which is near the synagogue, and charged with felony arson. No one else is expected to be arrested for the fire.

“There were some other children with the 14-year-old,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said. “They’re considered witnesses right now. It doesn’t appear to be bias-related at this time.”

Diaz is also responsible for a smaller blaze that broke out at the synagogue on May 7, according to law-enforcement sources.

He’s currently being held in a Bronx juvenile detention center and will be arraigned on May 31.

Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum said he’s devastated by the loss of his synagogue but pities the “lost soul” who started the inferno.

“They were not aware of what they were doing, and the way it looks to me, it was not anti-Semitic, it was not a hate crime,” he said. “Maybe it’s a wake-up call, maybe this gives him some brains, and I hope he would be able to straighten out his life.”

Greenbaum lamented that the congregation was in the “final steps” of making a deal that would have cleared the way to renovate the synagogue.

“We were working tirelessly to renovate the landmark building and to have in some capacity, a revised congressional,” he said.

He said Sunday was “one of the worst days in my life.”

“We feel bad for the kid but, at the other end, what happened to us is a tragedy,” he said.

Additional reporting by Danika Fears and Daniel Prendergast