Derech Emunoh Destroyed
By Howard Schwach
A three-alarm blaze that started in the basement of the historic, 98-year-old synagogue and worked its way to the roof gutted Derech Emunoh on Tuesday afternoon.
The wind-driven fire at the Beach 67 Street synagogue broke out about 4 p.m. According to fire officials, about 140 firefighters and 33 pieces of fire apparatus responded from Rockaway and Brooklyn. The fire was declared under control at approximately 5:30 p.m.
One firefighter suffered a minor injury. He was treated at the scene by EMS and released.
Officials of the synagogue told The
Wave that the Torah Scrolls, locked in a fireproof safe in the basement, were recovered and were safely in the hands of Harvey Gordon of the Rockaway Jewish Council. Gordon told The Wave that he went into the building shortly after the fire was declared under control specifically to recover the valuable Torah scrolls.
A spokesperson for the synagogue also said that they hoped to rebuild the synagogue, which was originally built in 1904.
It looks terrible right now," Joyce
Ashe, the second vice president told reporters. "We've rebuilt before. This is the shul of miracles."
Robert Wein, the synagogue president, told reporters that they would rebuild "if the synagogue is structurally sound,"
Building inspectors, however, ruled that the building be demolished because it was a danger to the structures around it, particularly to the Addabbo Health Center Annex, located directly behind the burned-out synagogue.
A crew using a large crane demolished the building on Thursday.
The building was owned by the city and there was reportedly no insurance coverage.
The temple was among the four in Rockaway that were torched in 1994 and 1995 by a Brooklyn man, who was subsequently arrested and convicted of the arson.
After that fire, in July of 1994, the congregation, with the city's help, rebuilt the temple. It burned again on April 30, 1995. It was closed for more than a year while the congregation raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for its restoration.
The day after the fire, Councilmember James Sanders held a meeting with representatives of several city agencies, civic officials and members of the congregation.
"This was a fact-finding meeting," Sanders told The Wave. "This was a real tragedy and we have to insure that security is increased at all of the religious institutions during the High Holy Days."
While Sanders stopped short of calling the fire a deliberate act, he said that we all had to "assume the worst and pray for the best."
"We have to assume that this was a bias incident until we learn differently," he concluded.
Congressman Gregory Meeks issued a statement, saying that he was "saddened by the tragic fire that destroyed Derech Emunoh, not only for the congregation, but for the community as well."
"I will work hand and hand with the congregation to rebuild that historic landmark," he added.
Michelle Titus, the newly-elected Assemblyperson for that area, said that she would do all she could to help the congregation recover from the fire.
The fire was unfortunate," Titus says. "The synagogue was a pillar of the community for so many years. My heart goes out to the congregation and I want them to know that my door is always open to them. I will help them in any way that I can."
Although many of those attached to the congregation believed that the fire was caused by arson, fire investigators told The Wave early Thursday morning that the fire was started by faulty electrical wiring in the basement is the only part of the building used by the congregation since the 1995 fire.