Yet Another 'Anti-Semitic
Hate Crime' Debunked
Rabbi's Son Arrested In Synagogue Fire

By Ethan Fletcher
Staff Writer - SF Examiner
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 afternoon.
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 District.
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 been avoided.
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.



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