SYDNEY, Australia (Oct. 4)
More than 1,500 members of Sydney’s Jewish community attended a special burial service this week for Torah scrolls and other holy books burned in a Sept. 25 fire that destroyed the sanctuary of the city’s Orthodox Central Synagogue.
All 17 of the synagogue’s Torah scrolls, including 15 stored inside a recently installed fire-proof safe, were decimated in last week’s blaze after the intense heat caused the safe to buckle.
Arson was originally suspected, but police and fire officials have indicated that the blaze was caused by a malfunction in the air-conditioning unit.
Sydney’s Orthodox rabbis had declared that this country’s Labor Day, which fell Monday, would be a day of public fasting.
Many in the crowd at the cemetery, and among the hundreds of worshipers at a specially convened afternoon service at the surviving synagogue hall, were observing the fast and devoting the day to religious study.
At the burial, rabbis and communal figures, joined by Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Avner, recited Psalms. They also buried sacks containing the charred remains of the scrolls, which the synagogue’s Rabbi Selwyn Franklin announced would be reinterred in the foundation of the shul’s Holy Ark when it is rebuilt.
Franklin said he had been told that the fire resulted in the largest single number of Torahs being destroyed at any one time since the Holocaust.
Support messages from leading political and religious figures were read at the synagogue service after the burial.
In New York on Monday, Rabbi Avi Weiss led a group of demonstrators holding Torah scrolls in front of the Australian Consulate to show solidarity with Sydney’s Jewish community.