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Fire Severely Damages Upper East Side Synagogue

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Officials are investigating the cause of a four-alarm fire at a Manhattan synagogue that blanketed blocks of the Upper East Side in smoke last night.

About 170 firefighters responded to the blaze which began at about 8:30 p.m. Monday at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun Synagogue on East 85th Street, according to a fire department spokesman.

The fire was brought under control in about an hour.

The synagogue's roof collapsed and there were concerns about the building's stability, according to the fire deparment.

Police say the synagogue was being renovated, and religious articles, including the Torahs, had been removed before work began.

“It’s devastating,” said Marilyn Blumberg, who has been in the congregation for 25 years. “The building is over 100 years old, there has been so much love and devotion to that building. There’s too much heart invested in it for anything but a full renovation.”

 Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein said the synagogue dates back to 1901.

"We thank God that nobody was hurt," Lookstein told the Associated Press, adding that the congregation plans to rebuild.

The synagogue had received work permits from the Department of Buildings starting in April to repair the building’s façade and remove non load-bearing walls from the interior. An application filed by FXFOWLE Architects said that the work would affect the building’s structural stability, according to the Department of Buildings.

The renovation also involved modification to the building’s sprinkler system.

 Reporting by Matt Joseloff with the Associated Press.

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