update deskU.S. News

Kentucky rabbi: Press ‘scapegoating’ Jews for accidental New York fire

A plea deal for a Jewish father and son is being said to be due to “Jewish money and influence,” Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, chairman of the Kentucky Jewish Council, told JNS.

A fire at a nursing home in Spring Valley, N.Y., in March 2021. Source: YouTube.
A fire at a nursing home in Spring Valley, N.Y., in March 2021. Source: YouTube.

A fire at an assisted-living home in Spring Valley, N.Y., in March 2021 claimed the lives of a resident and a firefighter.

Two Jews—a father and son—who had cleaned the facility’s kitchen with a blowtorch for Passover a few hours prior to the fire pleaded guilty to certain counts. Both will avoid jail time.

Nathaniel Sommer faces five years of probation, while his son Aaron faces three years of probation.

Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, chairman of the Kentucky Jewish Council, has followed the case in the news.

“I think it’s important to note that there was no concrete evidence that the koshering process was responsible for the fire,” the Chabad rabbi told JNS. “The fire erupted over an hour after they left, and there are multiple other possibilities.”

The ways some media outlets framed the story and the potential makeup of a jury were as much responsible for the plea deal as was the evidence, according to Litvin.

“The media immediately tried to sensationalize this case, drumming up a fact that they were rabbis and minimizing the fact that this was never alleged to be anything but a tragic accident,” he said.

That the two are avoiding jail time has led those who are biased against Chassidic Jews or who have outright expressed antisemitism to allege “that this plea deal was because of Jewish money and influence,” stated Litvin.

While he noted the tragic loss of life, he said that “the media is openly scapegoating Jews for an accidental fire.”

Firefighter Jared Lloyd, 35, and 79-year-old Evergreen Court resident Oliver Hueston died in the blaze.

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