By Gabriel Rom
As the number of Forest Hills arson attacks has grown to seven, many in the tightly knit Bukharian community are frustrated with what they see as an ineffectual response from city authorities.
Community leaders are becoming increasingly anxious, saying they think the city has abandoned them.
“Who has the responsibility to stop these crimes?” asked Rafael Nektalov, editor and publisher of the Bukharian Times, a weekly newspaper. “Why is our government not serving us?”
On Monday, the NYPD added two fire sites to the list of arsons that now stretches back to Oct. 20, which have all targeted Jewish-owned homes under construction in the heavily Bukharian neighborhood of Cord Meyer.
The two new incidents occurred at about 10:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at 70-35 113 Street and at around 8 p.m., Nov. 10 at 108-13-67 Road.
The house burned in the most recent incident belongs to Rabbi Valman Zvulunov, the director of the Bukharian Jewish Center’s yeshiva, who lives in Maspeth.
NYPD brass, elected officials and community members were scheduled to meet this Tuesday morning to discuss the rash of arsons.
“We feel like we’re on our own, and that’s not a great feeling to have,” said Manashe Khaimov, who works closely with Bukharian community organizations.
Khaimov connected the arsons to an upswing in global anti-Semitism.
“There is a saying that if you open up an umbrella in France, you must open up an umbrella in Odessa, too,” he said. “Well, what is happening in France is beginning to happen here.”
“If this isn’t a hate crime, then what is?” he added.
Police have not yet provided a motive for the arsons, but said they do not believe it is a hate crime.
Police have released an image of a man wearing a gray hoodie, but have yet to identify him. According to published reports, additional uniformed and plainclothes officers have been added to the 112th Precinct.
As calls for action from within the community have grown louder, the Bukharian Jewish Center announced it will offer a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist. Community patrols may also be organized in conjunction with Jewish security services from around the tri-state area, according to Khaimov and Nektalov.
The NYPD is also offering up to a $2,500 reward.
Tensions have surfaced between Bukharians and longtime Forest Hills residents in recent years over the future of the neighborhood’s housing stock, with the Bukharian community favoring larger houses.
But Nektalov, who came to the United States in 1993 after fleeing political and religious repression in previously Soviet-occupied Uzbekistan, spoke of his dream to express his culture and heritage, building taste included, undeterred.
At his office at the Bukharian Jewish Center in Forest Hills, Nektalov proudly opened a book of historic, long abandoned Bukharian homes in Uzbekistan. “See this one? It’s beautiful,” he said. “Our homes, they were beautiful.”
“We came to America as Jewish refugees and we will never forget what America did for us,” he added. “But now we feel that we are being ignored.”
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) whose district includes the Bukharian Jewish Center, spoke of a troubling parallel between the arsons and the oppression Bukharians had fled.
“They came here to avoid just this type of hatred,” she said.
Stavisky herself witnessed one of the fires, Nov. 8.
“You would never have guessed this was Forest Hills,” she said.
“It looked like a war zone.”
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@