November 22, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

The restoration of a synagogue in Manhattan was nearing completion in 2011 when a fire raged through the construction site, destroying the interior, collapsing the roof, and destroying most of the historic details and stained glass. Within months, the Kehilath Jeshurun congregation and its associated school chose to rebuild, bigger and better than before. The decision to rebuild and expand has already had significant benefits. The synagogue has been growing, it has a new library and the school has four additional classrooms and an upper floor gymnasium.

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The congregation showed little hesitation in the aftermath of the 4-alarm fire. With support from nearby congregations who provided spaces for temporary worship and for the continuation of the school, they were able to expand their funding and their building footprint. As a possible sign of the congregation’s resilience, the precious torahs, or sacred scrolls, along with the traditional bimah seats had all been stored off-site during the original renovation program. Within four years, the congregation celebrated the dedication of its newly expanded and completely restored building.

This chilling footage of the massive fire at Kehilath Jeshurun shows the critical work of the NYFD.

New York Jewish Week quoted Rabbi Haskel Lookstein “We called to God out of a dreadfully damaged 110-year-old, beautiful wooden synagogue…But when God answered us, He blessed us with essentially the same classic synagogue, but in a brand new, concrete, fire-resistant, code-compliant building. We turned catastrophe into an opportunity.”

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The results this year have been recognized with a construction award from the Building Design + Construction website.

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, 125 East 85th St, New York, New York

Holy Place/ Worship Space/ Historic Preservation