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Orthodox Synagogue Gutted, Conservative Synagogue Damaged by Fire of ‘suspicious’ Origin

March 19, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Rabbi Joseph Polish, of the Astoria Center of Israel, said today that he was “determined to conduct services tomorrow night and uninterruptedly throughout the year” in the 300-family Conservative congregation in the Astoria section of Queens despite extensive damage to its main sanctuary last night from a fire that erupted in and destroyed an Orthodox synagogue next door.

The 60-year-old synagogue of Congregation Mishkan Israel of Astoria was gutted by the blaze that Lt. Michael Kimchak of the Fire Department termed of “suspicious” origin. Polish told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his synagogue sustained damage from flames and smoke that spread from the adjacent building and water sprayed on both buildings by the fire fighters.

Polish said that two 20-foot stained glass windows were destroyed. But he would not “even try to estimate” the damage in terms of dollars at this point and said it was “impossible to predict” when the main sanctuary would be usable. Nevertheless, he said, Purim services will be conducted tomorrow night in other parts of the building such as the library and board room, and services will continue over the Sabbath and regularly thereafter.

Polish said “I have formally invited” the members of Congregation Mishkan Israel “to utilize our facilities in our library” for worship or “to attend our services,” but so far he has had no reply. “I will be in touch with them today.” he said.

Max Karp, president of the small Orthodox congregation, could not be reached for comment. Polish said the congregation has no rabbi. The fire that destroyed the two-story brick building ruined its six Torah scrolls and silver ornaments. The remains of the scrolls and silver artifacts salvaged from the blaze were taken to the local police station for safekeeping.

Polish declined to comment when asked if he thought the fire was of suspicious nature. “That’s an unfair question,” he said, adding that it was up to the Fire Department to determine if there was arson. He could recall no recent acts of vandalism or threats against his congregation.

But there reportedly were some incidents of vandalism against the Orthodox synagogue recently and a Greek church nearby was set on fire. Both congregations are located in what Polish described as a “mixed” neighborhood in which Greeks, Italians and Jews are the largest ethnic groups.

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