Raging Four-Alarm Fire Nearly Destroys Historic Upper East Side Synagogue

NY Post - July 12, 2011

by Kerry Wills and Barry Paddock DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

A raging four-alarm fire nearly destroyed a historic upper East Side synagogue on Monday night.

The powerful blaze broke out about 8:30 p.m. inside Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on E. 85th St., officials said.

Firefighters arrived to find heavy flames pouring out of the top floor and roof of the locked and empty five-story building.

"There was very heavy damage on the upper floors," said FDNY Chief Robert Sweeney. "The roof burned through and collapsed."

Residents of neighboring buildings were evacuated as a precaution as the fire raged for more than an hour.

"Everything was in flames," said witness Adi Weintraub, 28, who has relatives who are members of the synagogue. "I was crying. It was painful."

The synagogue, built in 1901, has been closed since May for renovations scheduled to be completed in September. It was gutted, and its religious artifacts were housed elsewhere.

"It's a very, very sad picture," Rabbi Haskel Lookstein said of the damage. "Thank God, nobody was hurt."

The Orthodox synagogue, whose prominent rabbi converted Ivanka Trump to Judaism before her marriage to Jared Kushner, has more than 1,200 members.

"I have complete faith our community, 140 years old, will respond," Lookstein said. "We will rebuild whatever has been lost, and with God's help, we will go on."

The cause of the fire is under investigation.