The following op-ed was published in Sunday’s Times Herald Record by Chana Burston, co-director of Chabad of Orange County, under the title “The fire of a human heart”:
When you see footage of people running out of a local multi-family home, ablaze with wild flames, what thoughts and emotions naturally surface?
When I viewed this footage on a local social media group this past Tuesday, I felt a tumult of emotions. Fear for the possibility of injuries or deaths, sadness for the loss of possessions, concern for how the fire may have started, hope that firefighters and the families were safe.
I expected the multitudes of comments that had already been posted to reflect communal concern over the well-being of their neighbors.
I was appalled as I read the comments. Here is what the majority sounded like, and I quote here without names, but directly from the social media posts.
“Jewish lightning,” one commenter wrote.
I wasn’t sure what that meant. Then I read on. Another commenter: “The likelihood of a new house like that catching fire on its own is nil. Must be that old lightning strike again,” and another commenter, again using the same term, “Jewish lightning –they want to add another level.” More comments read, “Their mouths are watering over that insurance check already” and yet another, “They will just build a bigger and better one in its place.” GIF’s were posted of wads of cash.
For those of you who still are not sure what the term “Jewish lightning” means, various online resources defines the term as a fire which is lit deliberately by the property owner to benefit from insurance.
Other disturbing comments read “Once again destroying evidence before a FBI search warrant is coming” and “They told a friend they were having a barbeque.” Another member of the group wrote “Burn baby, burn” and yet another – “Would Jew look at that.”
Did I mention that this was a Jewish home? The headlines stated incorrectly that the fire occurred in the village of Kiryas Joel, when in fact it was in the town Monroe. Headlines also mentioned that part of the lower level of the home was used as a place of worship.
This local Facebook group has close to five-thousand members. There were sympathetic comments, as well as posters who reprimanded the inappropriate comments. However, the overwhelming majority of comments were of an anti-Semitic and unsympathetic nature.
A human heart is like a fire – the passion within can warm the cold around us, or destroy everything around it.
We all want Orange County to be a safe place. We want to raise our children in a loving and compassionate environment. Let’s direct our passions in a manner that can pull the community together, rather than push us apart.