Langer family picking up the pieces after arson blaze

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Three months after an arson fire that their son has admitted to igniting charred their home, Rabbi Yosef and Hinda Langer are turning their lives right-side up again.

They’re not doing it at home, though — the smoke and fire-damaged Chabad House in San Francisco will be uninhabitable for another three to five months. For the past month, the rabbi and his wife have been staying in a two-bedroom flat they’ve rented on 21st and Anza, just seven blocks from their home and near to Hinda Langer’s Shalom School for young children.

The school now plays host to the family’s large Shabbat dinner festivities.

Earlier this month, the Langers saw their son, Avi, for the first time since the May 12 fire that gutted portions of their house and wreaked at least $250,000 in damages.

Avi Langer, 33, has been incarcerated in a San Francisco psychiatric facility since he was arrested in his Santa Clara room on the day of the fire. His court date is pending.

“We went to see him. It was a very trying moment. And we didn’t expect him to apologize. But we are assisting him to make phone calls, have kosher meals, make arrangements with a local rabbi and put tefillin on him,” said Rabbi Yosef Langer. (Hinda Langer, in Florida this week, could not be reached for comment.)

“He asked for some Jewish literature, a Tanach. The main thing is, he’s safe there, he’s receiving treatment. My hope is, he’ll be able to get good counsel and good treatment.”

Regarding the fire, “I didn’t even want to talk about that, I just wanted to find out what his needs were.”

The fire has left the rabbi with his own needs. Even without the family crisis, by his own estimates the rabbi needs to raise $40,000 to $50,000 a month just to keep local Chabad operations going. More than 100 donors contributed about $40,000 to Langer’s emergency fund (due to the fire), for which he expressed deep gratitude.

Eventually, Langer expects his son to be placed in a mental health facility in which he will be compelled to take his medications. Avi Langer is, to the best of his father’s knowledge, currently untreated.

The rabbi sees the fire as more than a personal tragedy. It’s also “a wake-up call to take it up a notch.”

“I must be a more committed husband and father and rabbi. And person. To the Almighty and everyone I come in contact with,” he said.

“When something like this happens, it’s a wake-up call. You take it to the next level with God and his creations, starting with the people closest to you: my wife, my kids and the community I try to serve.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.