On a May evening four years ago, Chanie Krinsky had just put her three youngest children to bed when she heard rustling outside of her home, the Chabad Jewish Center in Needham.
Thinking it was an expected visitor, she asked her son to greet them at the door, but he reported seeing no one there. Right afterward, her husband, Rabbi Mendy Krinsky, returned home with groceries and Chanie smelled smoke.
“I’m very sensitive to it because I had been in a serious house fire when I was younger,” Chanie explains. Mendy searched inside for the source of the smell and couldn’t find anything when Chanie remembered that the Chabad Center for Jewish Life of Arlington-Belmont, the home of Rabbi Avi Bukiet and his wife, Luna, had been set on fire just days earlier. She urged Mendy to look outside.
When Mendy opened the door, their son peeked his head out and immediately noticed small flames licking at the side of the house, near the entrance to the synagogue. Because of the rain, because of their access to a fire extinguisher, or, as Mendy and Chanie believe, because of divine intervention, they were able to contain the damage to the exterior and put out the fire before the fire department arrived on the scene.
“As soon as I heard that there was a fire, I woke up the kids who were already in bed, carrying them, half-awake, out of the house and into the car,” Chanie says. From there, Chanie sent out a message to other Chabad residents in their network, explaining what had happened. “I said, we’re safe, be careful out there, you know, in case this person was going around doing this to other places,” she recalls.
Through her chat group, she learned that the Bukiets, once again, had their Chabad set on fire that very evening, just 40 minutes earlier.
“It was hard for us to sleep that night, knowing this person was still out there, knowing that someone was trying to burn our house down,” Chanie says.
The next day — Shabbat — brought hope.
“The number of flowers and gifts and messages of support that we received from the community was so touching,” Chanie says. “Two women from the community suggested holding the Havdalah ceremony outside our house after the sabbath ended, and they told the local temples and churches. We came out of the house on Saturday night and there were more than 400 people there — the police blocked the street. We prayed, we sang songs, it was so moving.”
At the time, people were saying, “Maybe take down the menorah in front of your house, maybe you should hide it, or remove your address online,” Chanie says. “We said, ‘Absolutely not. We’re not going to hide.’ On the contrary, we believe this event and similar ones should be an impetus for growth. The best way to combat antisemitism is to be stronger and prouder Jews.”
“Until the indictment, there was no way to know for sure that it was antisemitism, but we knew even then,” Chanie says. “We’ll never know why he chose ours and the Bukiet’s — but they were both the homes of the Chabad rabbis and their families.”
The man accused of the Chabad arson died before justice could be served, but the mark from the fire remains on the house and, since then, one of her sons was targeted for being Jewish and physically assaulted in Manhattan.
“Sometimes the world can feel scary, but you need to move on, you can’t live with that heaviness,” Chanie says. “We have to be aware, but we trust in G-d and move on. We can’t let this stop us.”