Fire devastates old Manhattan synagogue

Members of a Manhattan Orthodox synagogue that burst into flames and was badly damaged this week held a July 12 prayer service in the street in front of the 110-year-old building.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein joined Cantor Mayer Davis for the service, reciting psalms for times of tragedy.

The four-alarm fire at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun started at about 8:30 p.m. July 11, rising high into the sky above the Upper East Side. It took about 170 firefighters to bring the blaze under control in just over an hour. Five of them suffered minor injuries.

Damage to the windows and roof at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City. photo/jta/miriam grossman

The old synagogue building had been undergoing a $4 million renovation project since May 2, and religious articles had been removed prior to construction, so no Torah scrolls were damaged in the fire. The fire caused the synagogue’s roof to collapse and severely damaged the building’s top floors.

The cause of the fire was under investigation at midweek, Fire Chief Robert Sweeney said. Officials say the blaze appears to have started on the top floor and roof.

Founded in 1872, Kehilath Jeshurun — located on East 85th Street between Lexington and Park avenues — is one of the city’s most prominent congregations, with some 1,100 member families. Known widely as “KJ,” the synagogue is led by Lookstein, a major figure in American Modern Orthodoxy.

“We thank God that nobody was hurt,” said Lookstein, adding that the congregation plans to rebuild. He also said “there is no reason” to suspect arson or any cause “out of the ordinary.” — jta, ap & n.y. jewish week