JERUSALEM – Rapid police and fire department response to a blaze in a Western Jerusalem Baptist church averted extensive damage from an act police suspect is arson.
In 1982 ultra right-wing Jewish arsonists set a fire that razed a church that had stood on the same property.
The arson attack on Narkis Street Baptist Church at approximately 10:45 p.m. October 23 destroyed 60 chairs and caused smoke and water damage. The arsonist or arsonists forced entrance through a side door and used flammable material to kindle flames at three places in the sanctuary.
Pastor Charles Kopp of the English-speaking international Narkis Street Congregation said that the alertness of the building’s caretaker prompted a speedy fire department and police response. “They kept [the fire] from going big, destroying the piano or the pulpit or platform,” Kopp told Compass.
The German woman living in an adjoining church-owned building phoned Kopp at around 11 p.m. after loud voices woke her. When Kopp arrived, he saw water on the floor and burned chairs. The woman was unhurt, he said.
Throughout the week four congregations meet for services in the building. Kopp’s congregation, which gathers Saturday mornings, is attended by local Christians and visited by tourists from around the world. A Russian Messianic Jewish congregation, a Hebrew-speaking Messianic congregation and an English-speaking American Baptist congregation also meet in the building.
Because the alarm system was switched off, the church’s insurance company may not cover the damages. “People come here at all hours of the day and night, and they don’t know how to arm or disarm the alarm system,” Kopp said. “We fell into the disuse of the alarm system.” New security measures are now being discussed, including the use of video cameras and re-arming the alarm system.
Volunteers have cleaned the floors, walls, windows and lamps, Kopp said. Professionals, however, must clean the electronic equipment and ceiling, which is covered by acoustic material. “We don’t know what kind of expenses will be involved,” he said. The Baptist Village near Petah Tikva lent chairs for this weekend’s services.
The previous church built on this property was destroyed by fire 25 years ago during the Feast of Tabernacles. Kopp says that individuals affiliated with the extreme right-wing Kach movement set the 1982 blaze. Following that act of arson, the English-speaking congregation met for years in a tent. The new US$1.2 million sanctuary is built of strong stone.
No threats have been made against Kopp’s congregation. Victor Blum, however, pastor of the Russian Messianic-Jewish congregation that meets Friday nights, says for several years the anti-missionary organization Yad L’Achim has warned Israelis to stay away from him and his congregation. “They are spreading leaflets in Hebrew and Russian stating that we are members of a very dangerous sect, the Messianic Jews [who are] converting the Jewish people to Christianity,” Blum said.
Blum says the leaflets show pictures of his wife and himself, in addition to children and eight women in the congregation. The leaflets were glued around the Baptist House several years ago. Later the leaflets were distributed in mailboxes around Jerusalem.
About five years ago a 14-year-old boy from the congregation was delivering invitations for free Yeshua videos when a ski-masked man stabbed him.
Blum said he changed his phone numbers after unknown individuals phoned threats in the early hours. He pressed no charges because those making the threats were never identified.
Blum says he has received expressions of support from Israelis after this latest arson attack. One message of support was from a Jewish man in his 70s who made a special trip to say he was sorry about what had happened.
Kopp says that another church offered its building for this weekend’s services. Also a rabbi of a Reform Jewish congregation offered its synagogue for Christian meetings. It appeared unnecessary to accept these offers.
Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby says so far there are no suspects. “There is a special investigation team that investigates the event,” Ben-Ruby said. “We take it very, very seriously.”
Copyright 2007 Compass Direct News