NEW YORK, April 10 (UPI) -- A suspect was in custody in the burning of 12 mezuzahs in New York buildings, and investigators were handling it as a possible hate crime, officials said.
Police were questioning Rubin Ublies, 35, of Brooklyn in connection with 11 mezuzahs burned in one Brooklyn building Monday and a 12th in a second building Tuesday, the New York Daily News and the New York Post reported.
Mezuzahs are small containers affixed to doorways in Jewish households. A mezuzah holds a tiny parchment inscribed in Hebrew with Torah verses in fulfillment of the commandment to display the verses on the doorways in one's home.
On Monday, Ublies allegedly began on the 13th floor of a building and set fires to 11 mezuzahs as he worked his way down a stairwell. On Tuesday, he allegedly similarly vandalized an apartment on the 13th floor of another building, police said.
"This was an attack at the heart of the community. The mezuzah is a sacred object in the Jewish religion. It's a blessing at the home and we can't allow an act like this to be tolerated," said City Councilman Stephen Levin, D-Brooklyn.
The newspapers reported police sources say Ublies has 52 prior arrests that include assault, robbery, burglary, drug possession and petty larceny.
"I know he didn't do it. You can look at his record. He's never done anything hateful," said a cousin of Ublies, who did not provide her name.
"No one really likes him around here. He's hated around here. They just got video of him leaving a building."