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San Jose Chabad Burned Down, Vandalized

A Chabad in San Jose burned down on December 22 and was subsequently vandalized a few days later.

Rabbi Mendel Weinfeld of The Chabad House-Almaden Valley synagogue told the Journal in a phone interview that footage showed that an unidentified male started the fire at around 1 a.m. on the morning of December 22 in the carport under the building. “You don’t see what he’s doing, but you see a fire starting and smoke coming out of that,” he said. The male leaves after half an hour; 10 minutes later, another individual can be seen trying to put out the fire with a water bottle. He appeared to think that he was successful and left, but the fire subsequently started back up again a couple minutes later and burned until 7 a.m.

“Thank God we were able to save the Sifrei Torah [Torah Scrolls],” Weinfeld said, adding that a non-Jewish person had seen the fire and texted a friend about what was happening to his synagogue. The friend, identified in The Jewish News of Northern California (The J) as Jacob Cohen, ran over to the synagogue and convinced the firefighters to save the Torah scrolls.

“Unfortunately, the fire took over the building,” Weinfeld said. “It ruined the Hebrew school room … every room in the building was torched.” Three days later, the synagogue was vandalized and various items remaining from the fire were stolen.

Initially, investigators had determined that the fire was not the result of a hate crime. But the subsequent vandalism has muddied that conclusion, Weinfeld said, adding that it was unclear if the fire and the vandalism were connected. The investigation is currently ongoing.

The Chabad had just moved to a new renovated building in time for Rosh Hashanah in 2021. Weinfeld has been in San Jose for the past couple of years and was living in Brooklyn prior to that.

Weinfeld said that the community’s support has been “unprecedented.” “The entire community, whether they have reform, conservative [beliefs], everyone came together to support [us]. Somebody in the community started a GoFundMe. People have been donating, people have been calling trying to help in every way possible, which is really, really beautiful. Somebody started over a campaign to light Shabbos candles … we had a fire of destruction, and we’re going to light a fire of light.”

As of this writing, the GoFundMe currently has reached $149,352 in donations, with a goal of reaching $250,000. Those who want to donate can do so at https://www.gofundme.com/f/rebuildchabad. A separate fundraising effort was also started at The Chesed Fund. The Chabad House’s Facebook page stated in a January 5 post that Weinfeld “will use the funds to find a new space for the time being and then build a much larger building to serve as a warm community center.”

“Our response is very simple: we’re going to use this opportunity to build something even bigger … it’s going to burn a lot longer than the fire that took down our building,” Weinfeld told the Journal.

Source: Jewish Journal

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