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Synagogue Destroyed in Blaze

A fire in downtown Gloucester this weekend killed one man and destroyed an apartment building. As WBUR's Abigail Beshkin reports, the fire also spread to and destroyed the only synagogue on Cape Anne.

ABIGAIL BESHKIN: Synagogue president Carole Sharoff says the Congregation is mourning the loss of it's building. But...

CAROLE SHAROF: "Nobody was in the building when it burned. We are so grateful for that. We mourn the loss of our neighbor, who died, and for all the families who were displaced, so we are organizing a clothing and food drive to make sure that the people who have been displaced are taken care of."

BESHKIN: Sharoff says the congregation had recently completed about $200,000 worth of renovations to its 19th century building, including making it handicap accessible.

SHAROF: "We built a ramp, we put in a lift, we adopted this antique structure to the needs of our modern population."

BESHKIN: The fire was still smoldering yesterday morning, so Congregation Ahavat Achim held weekly services in a nearby church. Officials say all five Torahs, or scrolls, were destroyed. However Rabbi Samuel Barth says during yesterday's services, fire fighters entered with prayer shawls and other sacred objects they were able to rescue.

BARTH: They worked on retrieving the items with such love and respect, the community felt that these were one thing that might be left over to them from the building.

BESHKIN: Barth says the congregation's hundreds of members are committed to keeping their synagogue going.

BARTH: Everybody's very, very clear, even in the midst of a lot of sadness, that this is not the time that the community was destroyed, or even that the community was severely injured. This was the time that the building burned down.

BESHKIN: Officials say their priority will be to find space this week for the synagogue's school program and offices. Within two months, they hope to begin work on finding or building a new place to pray.

This program aired on December 18, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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