Arson In Forest Hills Ignites Fear In Bukharian Enclave
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Arson In Forest Hills Ignites Fear In Bukharian Enclave

Community meets to organize response; councilwoman to contact mayor.

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

Seven fires have ravaged buildings in the residential neighborhood of Forest Hills in recent weeks, prompting an investigation by the NYPD Arson and Explosive Squad.

The fact largely overlooked by mainstream news coverage: All the buildings set ablaze belonged to Bukharian Jews, according to community leader Aron Borukhov.

“People are outraged and concerned,” said Borukhov, an attorney who has lived in the neighborhood with his wife and three children for the past 16 years. “The community needs to be proactive so the situation doesn’t escalate.”

Though no injuries have been reported, the blazes, targeting large construction sites, have affected neighboring homes more than once. In the most recent fire last Wednesday, Nov. 25, properties on both sides of the conflagration caught fire, said Borukhov. The first incident took place on Nov. 8. A surveillance video of the suspect, a man in a dark hoodie, was released last week; the 112th precinct is promising up to $2,500 for information regarding the arson. Though there have been seven fires, the police have only linked four of them to the suspect so far.

Though officials declined to call the incidents hate crimes, members of the local Bukharian community held no reservations in doing so.

“If seven Jewish homes had been burned in France within a month, there would be much more of an uproar,” said Boris Yuabov, a doctor who has lived in the community for the past six years with his three children. He described standing with his non-Jewish neighbors and watching a site on the corner of his block collapse and burn to the ground. “We are scared. These fires are started in the dead of night in a neighborhood with many children and elderly individuals. This is a life-threatening situation.”

Allan Silvera, a non-Bukharian member of the Forest Hills Jewish community, referred to the eerily similar profiles of homeowners targeted as the “elephant in the room.”

“It’s obvious that there’s something in common between the different properties attacked,” he said, adding that the neighborhood, albeit largely Bukharian, is also ethnically diverse. “More needs to be done. The neighborhood is scared to death.”

In an attempt to organize a response, about 20 members of the Bukharian Jewish community, as well as several other concerned neighbors, met at the local Bukharian community center on Sunday morning. Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz joined the meeting, though no representatives from police or fire department attended, according to community members.

Speaking to the Jewish Week, Koslowitz described the events as “alarming” and said she is contacting Mayor Bill de Blasio to raise further awareness about the situation. Koslowitz said she could not comment on whether or not the incidents were targeting members the Bukharian Jewish community.

"We can't yet say who did it or what caused him to do it, but the police department is doing everything they possibly they can to put these crimes to a speedy end," she said.

The NYPD similarly declined to comment on whether or not the incidents are targeting the Bukharian community. They confirmed that an investigation is still underway.

hannah@jewishweek.org

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