DULUTH — Third- and fourth-generation members were too devastated to speak Monday following the fire that burned Duluth's oldest-surviving Modern Orthodox Jewish synagogue.
"It's not a good day," one of the leaders said Sept. 9, declining to be interviewed.
The synagogue belonging to the Adas Israel Congregation was destroyed by the fire at 302 E. Third St., Duluth — its walls built of lumber collapsing and spilling out into the streets. Duluth police, fire and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the incident.
The first signs of hope came mid-morning, as members of temple leadership guided Duluth firefighters as they extracted the congregation's Torah from the basement. The five scrolls of the Hebrew Scripture were hand-written on parchment paper and are read from every Sabbath, said one of the congregation members.
"This is a huge deal," assistant fire chief Dennis Edwards said. "There are some things that are not replaceable."
A 3 p.m. press conference in Duluth has been scheduled by the city of Duluth police and fire departments to discuss the investigation.
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, issued the following statement regarding the fire at Duluth’s historic Adas Israel Congregation:
“The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas is deeply saddened by the devastating fire that appears to have destroyed much of the historic Adas Israel Congregation in downtown Duluth," he said. "The Congregation dates back to the late 1800s and the building’s cornerstone was laid in 1901."
Niah Chatierlays woke to the smell of the fire in the nearby Tri-Tower Apartments.
"I looked out the window and it was so foggy," Chatierlays said.
Her partner, Devin Garner, recorded the fire as it burned uncontested and bright during the night. Smoldering in the morning, firefighters used a grinder to get through steel bars on the basement windows in an effort to reach the artifacts and contents.
The stone basement stood in contrast to the charred and collapsed wood structure above it. Still, it was submerged in water, which poured out of the building and ran down the length of Third Avenue East, chunks of charred debris surfing on the channel of water that continued hours after the blaze.
"This has been a cultural icon for as long as I can remember," said longtime Central Hillside resident Joel Heller, one of the observers attracted to the scene.
Firefighters wrapped the scrolls individually in black plastic bags and handed them to the awaiting congregation members.
Rob Shamblott is the president of Temple Israel located one mile east of Adas Israel Congregation in Duluth. He called leadership at Adas Israel to offer worship space. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is on Sept. 30. Shamblott described the Jewish community in Duluth as small and well-known to one another.
"We've all known each other our whole lives," he said. "(They're) heartbroken."
The scrolls and other pieces of artwork were loaded into a congregation member's pickup truck. The small group of Adas Israel Congregation wore smiles for the salvage effort.
The congregation members said the synagogue was home to roughly 40 families — some descendants of the originators of the synagogue.
This is a developing story; check back for updates.