Fire-ravaged Poile Zedek assessing damage

Fire-ravaged Poile Zedek assessing damage

Poile Zedek’s roof collapsed during the Oct. 23 fire.
Poile Zedek’s roof collapsed during the Oct. 23 fire.

Weeks after a devastating fire gutted Congregation Poile Zedek in New Brunswick, members are still assessing damage and have been welcomed to worship together in other locations.

Poile Zedek executive director Robert Dorfman said the synagogue, which has a large number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, is holding Shabbat services at Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park and daily minyanim at Rutgers Chabad. 

During the Oct. 23 fire, the caretaker was the only person in the building; he escaped uninjured.

The 114-year-old Orthodox congregation built the destroyed synagogue in 1923. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. 

“The community has been wonderful,” said Dorfman. “Ahavas Achim has been kind enough to make provisions to give us our own room so that we may all daven together as a hevruta.” He added that he and his fellow congregants “are forever grateful to Rabbis Mendy Carlebach and Baruch Goodman at Chabad.”

Although the shul lost nine Torah scrolls — Rabbi Abraham Mykoff was able to run into the burning building and save one — and numerous other ritual items, including prayer books, tallitot, and tefillin, were destroyed, “miraculously,” said Dorfman, some of its Russian-Hebrew prayer books survived the blaze. Chabad has provided replacement tefillin for those lost in the fire.

“We’ve received an incredible number of offers to donate prayer books and other religious articles, but we have not begun to even look at the offers because we have nowhere to put them,” said Dorfman. 

He also praised investigators from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and other law enforcement agencies for their concern and dedication and for keeping congregation leaders abreast of the ongoing investigation. While the cause of the fire had not been determined as of Nov. 13, the processor’s office believes it was accidental.

Dorfman said nothing was being disturbed inside Poile Zedek as investigators continued to sift through the debris. But on Sunday, Nov. 22, Misaskim, a Brooklyn-based volunteer organization, will come in and bury destroyed holy items, in accordance with Jewish law, in a geniza in the congregation’s cemetery. Dorfman said a ceremony will be held in front of the burned-out shul on Neilson Street before proceeding with the items to the Joyce Kilmer Avenue cemetery.

While no damage assessment has yet been made, Dorfman said it will take “many, many millions of dollars” to rebuild Poile Zedek. 

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