SYDNEY, Australia (Sep. 26)
A major fire ripped through the largest synagogue here this week, devastating the inside of the three-story building and destroying the main sanctuary.
All of the Central Synagogue’s Torah scrolls, including 15 stored inside a recently installed fireproof safe, were completely burned after the intense heat caused the safe to buckle.
Although congregants were at the synagogue for Sukkot celebrations, everyone inside the building complex escaped Sunday’s conflagration unharmed.
On Yom Kippur, some 3,000 congregants attended services at the Orthodox synagogue.
Arson was originally suspected, but the latest reports from police and fire officials indicated that the blaze was caused by a malfunction in the air-conditioning unit.
Congregants wept and watched with horror as 12 firefighting units battled the flames for more than two hours.
Jewish leaders have designated Oct. 3 as a day of mourning for Sydney’s Jewish community. At that time, remains of the religious books will be buried and a special service will take place in a hall that will serve as a temporary synagogue for the Orthodox congregation.
Among the many messages of support received by the Jewish community was a personal call to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry from Iftikhar Aziz, the president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, who expressed the Muslim community’s “deepest sympathy and concern for the individuals and the community who have suffered this tragic blow.”