Fire Tears Through Jewish Community Center in California as Police Investigate

(l-r) Rabbi Mendel Weinfeld holds 2 of the Torahs that were saved; fire damage on the floor of the building
Rabbi Weinfeld

"The fire of Judaism and Torah and Mitzvah will light a lot longer than this fire of destruction," Rabbi Weinfeld told Inside Edition Digital. 

A mysterious fire tore through a California synagogue last month, barely three months after its grand opening. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, officials said. 

The incident happened on Dec. 22, two days before Christmas Eve at The Chabad House, located at 1088 Branham Lane, San Jose.

Fire officials from the San Jose Fire Department, who arrived on the scene at 6:44 a.m. said the fire appears to have started outside and spread to a carport, and from there went through the attic and to the rest of the building, ABC7 News reported. 

On Dec. 12, the San Jose Police Department (SJPD) sent out a statement on Twitter calling it a “structure fire.”  “Our investigation determined that this was NOT a hate incident or racially motivated," the statement read. 

Rabbi Mendel Weinfeld, who ran to the scene of the fire after getting a call that the community center was up in flames, told Inside Edition Digital that four Torah scrolls endured smoke damage but was thankful the fire crews were able to save them. However, everything else in the building was destroyed, including many religious books and a mezuzah.

“The building is a total loss including the children’s mitzvah notes,” Weinfeld said.

Video surveillance taken the night of the fire captured a man walking near The Chabad House. “We don’t see the action of anyone actually lighting the fire, but then we see the fire,” the rabbi said. 

Weinfeld said “the police put up photos of the man that appeared in the video and said that the moment they get him they will find out his motive.” Until than, the San Jose Police Department arson investigators are handling it, he said.

When Inside Edition Digital reached out to the SJPD they did not respond to our request for comment. 

The Chabad Center had recently undergone an extensive renovation and opened its doors during the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah. Weinfeld said members of the center and the community had just celebrated the festival of lights together.

“We had 1,500 people from our community, the mayor, the council members here to enjoy Hanukkah, a holiday of freedom of religion, and then we have this devastating fire,” Weinfeld said. 

He added that the night before the blaze, hundreds of people visited The Chabad House for 'New York Deli' night and it was a great success.

He said that he remains hopeful. He shared that when he and his wife moved to San Jose from Crown Heights, Brooklyn in Jan. 2020, the community welcomed them both with open arms, and now he is there for his community to rebuild something “bigger and better.”

"The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught us that after a devastating loss, comfort will be achieved through growth. Instead of looking back and anguishing over the loss, we channel those powerful feelings forward." 

He added: “The fire of Judaism and Torah and Mitzvah will light a lot longer than this fire of destruction." 

When asked if he thought the burning of The Chabad House was a hate crime, Weinfeld said “No comment.” 

A GoFundMe has been created to help rebuild the center. As of Wednesday, nearly $142,000 has been raised towards their goal of $250,000.

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