The peaceful afterglow of the just-concluded Pesach holiday was shattered this week in Flatbush when the Horodenke Bais Medrash was totally destroyed by a two-alarm fire. Thankfully, there were no fatalities or serious injuries, and all of the shul’s sifrei Torah were rescued.
The shul’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Chanoch Dov Ashkenazi, said that the blaze – which ignited in the two-story building on East 27th Street between Avenues J and K just before 10:00 AM last Thursday – may have been caused by a burning candle, although he could not say for sure. Rabbi Ashkenazi lives with his family in the apartment above the shul, which has been operating at that location for nearly four decades.
“You see what happened. Unfortunately, an act of G-d. What can we do?” he commented. Rebbetzin Ashkenazi was at home upstairs when the fire began, and she was able to run out to safety. “I was alone in the whole house,” she said. “I did what I had to do. G-d gave me the strength.” Approximately 75 firefighters were required to control the powerful blaze, which caused heavy flames to burst through the structure’s roof and thick clouds of smoke to cascade out of the windows. The fire’s intensity caused it to spread to one of the shul’s immediately neighboring homes.
Despite the obvious dangers – which included smoke inhalation and the potential of a building collapse – the firefighters worked strenuously to get the shul’s five Torah scrolls out of harm’s way. “A couple of minutes into the operation, we found out where the Torahs were,” stated Fire Dept. Chief Matthew Nelson. “The guys went in there, and we did remove them safely.” The sifrei Torah were handed over to volunteers from Misaskim and Hatzolah who were standing by. Various reports claimed that anywhere from one to three firefighters sustained minor injuries.
Many of the Horodenke shul’s seforim – along with prized possessions that had belonged to Rabbi Ashkenazi’s father, the recently deceased Melbourner Rav – were damaged or totally destroyed as a result of the fire. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
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