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Synagogue burns in Florida; ATF investigating

Flames transformed a synagogue into ashes Sunday morning, stunning the Tallahassee Jewish community and sparking an effort to move forward.
Published: May. 10, 2022 at 5:19 AM MST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV/Gray News) - Flames transformed a synagogue, Chabad FSU, into ashes Sunday morning, stunning the Tallahassee Jewish community and sparking an effort to move forward.

Investigators from both the State Fire Marshal’s office and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives were on the scene Monday, combing through the rubble.

Rabbi Schneur Oirechman was out of town when the fire erupted. He received an urgent phone call from his son, who was still at the family’s property next to the Chabad House. He had heard what sounded like explosions. Now, their house of worship was burning to the ground.

“My first reaction was crying,” Rabbi Oirechman said.

The Tallahassee Fire Department responded to a fire at Chabad House FSU early Sunday morning....
The Tallahassee Fire Department responded to a fire at Chabad House FSU early Sunday morning. The building is believed to be a total loss(TFD)

Monday afternoon, workers were able to retrieve two sacred Torah scrolls from the synagogue’s rubble. They were badly damaged by both water and smoke.

“Seeing the burnt Torah scrolls, that’s difficult,” he said.

Max James is a Florida State University student who says he rediscovered his faith at Chabad FSU.

“It’s a loss of a home, really,” he said. “I didn’t even process it, really. This was the last thing we could expect.”

Misha Leah Bertch is a family friend of Rabbi Oirechman. She realized his family isn’t used to needing help. More often, they offer solace to others in need.

“I expect him to take care of everyone else because that’s how they are. We’re trying to be here for them,” she said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

An ATF spokesperson told WCTV the agency was asked to assist the investigation by the state. The State Fire Marshal’s Office had not yet returned a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the group is already forming plans to rebuild. A new fundraising campaign is underway. The rabbi said he plans to open a temporary structure in time for the fall semester.

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