San Jose

Community Looking for Answers After Fire Destroys Synagogue in South San Jose

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Authorities are investigating after an early morning fire destroyed a South San Jose synagogue.

The incident happened early Wednesday morning at the Chabad House near Branham and Almaden Expressway. Police on Thursday morning said an investigation determined the fire was not a hate incident or racially motivated.

Police said the fire appears to have started outdoors and spread to a carport, later extending into the attic space of the attached building.

Rabbi Mendel Weinfeld showed NBC Bay Area late Wednesday what remains inside of the community center and the synagogue of the Chabad House.

Weinfeld said they moved into the San Jose location just three months ago.

“It's surreal to see. Devastating to see our synagogue up in flames,” he said.

Weinfeld said the fire tore through the building sometime overnight, destroying the entire downstairs and then reignited.

A garbage truck driver saw the flames and called 911.

“Our home, for so many, has brought so much light. We just came from the holiday of Hannukah,” Weinfeld said.

But the most important things inside, four torah scrolls were saved when a member of the congregation rushed to the fire and told firefighters they were still inside.

“He was able to pull out those Torah scrolls and they were safe. Unfortunately, we lost many books. But we’re glad everyone is safe,” Weinfeld told NBC Bay Area.

Weinfeld said the surveillance video, now in the hands of the San Jose Fire Department, shows someone lurking under the carport around 2 a.m. and where firefighters said the fire started.

“We don’t know what happened. We’ll leave that up to law enforcement to figure out what happened and how it happened,” he said.

But now the synagogue where Weinfeld serves thousands of South Bay families will be back as soon as they can.

“We’re going to rebuild stronger and better. We’re going to do Torah and Mitzvahs. We’ll do goodness and kindness. Taking the flame. The flame of goodness that will last much longer than the flames that burned down our building,” he said.

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