- In what his parents say is a failure of the state's mental
health system, the son of a rabbi has been taken into custody by police
and charged with setting fire to his father's home and synagogue Wednesday
- Avi Langer, 33, the son of Rabbi Yosef and Hindi Langer,
reportedly took a valuable scroll from the Torah, the Jewish holy text,
off the wall of his parents' bedroom and lit it on fire. He was taken into
custody in Santa Clara Wednesday afternoon on arson charges after a one-alarm
fire burned the Chabad House of San Francisco at 2950 Anza St. in the Richmond
- The fire, which was concentrated in a second-story bedroom
and in the basement, was extinguished in about 20 minutes after being reported
at 12:28 p.m. Avi Langer is charged with arson and possession of flammable
materials, burglary, theft and possession of stolen property.
- Originally investigated as a possible hate crime, the
facts revealed a tale of a mentally unstable son lashing out against his
family, according to Avi's father, Rabbi Langer.
- Avi has suffered from diagnosed severe schizophrenia
since he had a mental breakdown at the age of 23. He has been in and out
of treatment and on and off the streets of San Francisco since he stopped
taking his medication nine years ago.
- Avi's condition recently became worse, and his parents
banned him from staying at the two-story Richmond District house that served
as both a residence and a well-known weekly gathering spot for Jewish observers
of Shabbat, the holy Sabbath.
- "This is a real tragedy, aside from the house and
synagogue." Rabbi Langer said. "He's really a very sick boy ...
I'm just so thankful that he didn't hurt himself or any others."
- The parents, speaking inside their charred home and surrounded
by salvaged family photographs, are convinced that the fire could have
- Avi's hostility toward his parents may have derived from
them calling 911 on their son at least five times over the last nine years,
Rabbi Langer said. But they had to do it, he added, since it was the only
way to force Avi to receive hospital treatment and take his medication.
- In many states, including California, a person cannot
be forcibly treated psychiatrically unless he is considered a threat to
himself or others.
- Even though he was previously not a direct threat, Avi
was not well, and his erratic behavior worsened after a stay at San Francisco
General Hospital, his parents said, adding that he refused to leave his
room or stared out the window without speaking for hours at a time.