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Overflow crowd mourns rabbi and wife

An overflow crowd stood outside a suburban New York synagogue for the funeral service of its prominent rabbi and rebbetzin killed in a fast-moving house fire.

 

Rabbi Jacob Rubenstein, the religious leader of the Young Israel of Scarsdale, and his wife, Deborah, were killed in the middle of the night Saturday. Their service was held Sunday afternoon.

Rubenstein was a past president of the Rabbinical Council of America and the Westchester Board of Rabbis. He was active in the UJA-Federation of New York.

In a statement Sunday, the synagogue said the Rubensteins had “practiced a joyous, inclusive and embracing traditional Judaism that will now serve as their lasting legacy,” The Associated Press reported.

According to a report in the Journal News, city officials said that firefighters were called to the couple’s home at about 3:30 a.m. to find flames had already destroyed the roof and the second floor threatening to collapse. Officials believe the cause of the fire may have been a lightning strike, and said all indications were that the blaze was “a tragic accident.”

Members of the congregation gathered in front of the home and synagogue, with many crying and saying prayers. According to the Journal News, hundreds packed the synagogue Saturday morning for the Shabbat morning service, which was led by the congregation’s assistant rabbi.

 

Rubenstein, 58, was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States as a young child, moving to Memphis, Tenn., according to his biography on the Young Israel’s Web site. He studied at yeshivas in Chicago and Israel, and earned his bachelors’ degree in Talmud and Jewish philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He later earned a master’s degree at Harvard University in Near Eastern languages and civilizations.

The rabbi was a scholar and a community leader. He chaired the rabbinic advisory council of the UJA-Federation of New York, was a past president of the Westchester Board of Rabbis and was a member of the board of directors of the Washington Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values.

Both the synagogue and the Rubenstein home have a Scarsdale postal address, but are in a section of New Rochelle. The couple reportedly had four adult children.

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