Anti-Semitism suspected in Moscow synagogue blast

MOSCOW — A bomb blast ripped through a Moscow synagogue last week, causing no injuries but seriously damaging the three-story building.

"This was clearly an anti-Semitic act," said Berel Lazar, the rabbi at the Lubavitch synagogue and chairman of the Rabbinical Alliance of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The explosion, caused by a homemade bomb planted outside the synagogue, shattered windows in the building's southern facade and tore off sections of the roof.

The force of the blast knocked over Torah scrolls in the synagogue's ark. The scrolls were not damaged, members of the community said. Windows of neighboring houses also broke.

"This is a terrible act of vandalism," said 72-year-old Vladimir Kutyin, who has lived near the synagogue since childhood.

"I'm ashamed of the Russian people who let such things happen in our country. I fought side by side with many Jews against the Nazis," Kutyin, a veteran who is not Jewish, added.

The brick synagogue reopened in June, replacing a wooden one that burned down in 1993 as a result of arson. Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov, who attended the June opening of the synagogue, said at the time, "The city authorities will never tolerate the slightest display of inequality or oppression toward the Jews."

Vladimir Porokhov, district police chief, said Friday of last week that he was determined to capture those responsible for the bombing.

At press time no one has been arrested, said Mark Levin, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, in a telephone interview Sunday from Maryland.

Except for a guard, the synagogue was empty during the Aug. 22 nighttime bombing. Lazar said people usually study in the synagogue at night, but that on the evening of the bombing, many of them were attending a wedding elsewhere. The wedding was originally scheduled to take place at the synagogue, Levin said.

"Had the wedding not been moved, there would have been serious loss of human life," Levin said.

Levin said his organization plans to follow up with both U.S. and Russian government officials. During the weekend Thomas Pickering, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, visited the damaged synagogue.

The combination of the bombing and the arson fire "puts the Jewish community as a whole in Moscow on edge," Levin said.

Added Lazar: "If our parents fought against communism, today we have to fight against hooliganism."

The blast came a day after construction began on a new Jewish community center next to the synagogue. The new center is the biggest project of its kind since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The synagogue, in the Maryina Roshcha section, was first built in a former Jewish neighborhood.