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Devastation, Yet Optimism For Members Of Destroyed Upper East Side Synagogue

Cause Of Blaze Still Under Investigation; Rabbi Vows To Eventually Rebuild
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Rabbi Haskil Lookstein says the community will rebuild (credit: CBS 2)

Rabbi Haskil Lookstein says the community will rebuild (credit: CBS 2)

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A native New Yorker, Lou Young joined CBS 2 in June 1994. He has...
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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The cause of a fire that tore through a century-old Manhattan synagogue Monday night remained a mystery Tuesday, but the congregation was vowing to rebuild.

Flames shot out of the top floor of the Kehilath Jeshurun Synagogue on the Upper East Side at 8:30 p.m. That’s where fire marshals believe the fire started.

The 110-year-old building was being renovated so the sacred Torahs were not inside and the full extent of damage is still being assessed. Fire marshals questioned contractors on Tuesday. Some congregation members wept at the sight of what is left of the old building, reports CBS 2’s Lou Young.

“It’s terribly painful. It’s like watching a member of the family being injured,” said synagogue member Brenda Bernstein. “This is one of the most magnificent synagogues in our city. It is an enormous loss for us.”

“Our children were bar mitzvahed and bat mitzvahed here,” Rebecca Mumberg said. “All our children went to the school next door. It’s terribly upsetting. A congregation is its people but this was a beautiful, very spiritual sanctuary.”

The fire spread to four alarms before it was brought under control, and not before doing great damage to the building.

“The majority of the roof has collapsed,” said FDNY Chief Robert Sweeney. “We have structural concerns of the building at this present time.”

The modern orthodox synagogue, located at East 85th Street and Lexington Avenue, was built in 1872. Fortunately, it was empty at the time of the fire.

“I have complete faith in our community, which is 140-years old, will respond. We will rebuild whatever has been lost and with God’s help, we’ll go on,” said Rabbi Haskil Lookstein.

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of the place. It’s not just a building with wooden pews and turn-of-the-century stained glass, but a Jewish congregation more than a century old that has grown in recent decades to one of the most influential synagogues in the entire city.

Rabbi Lookstein’s great grandfather was founder. His father led the congregation as he does. He told Young he wept during morning prayers in a school auditorium on Tuesday.

“I took over for the last part and I burst into tears when I started to pray out loud. God answers us on a very bad day,” Rabbi Lookstein said.

Did you witness the fire? Sound off in our comments section below…

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