A 117-year-old synagogue in Duluth burned to the ground on Monday. Four days later, police arrested a 36-year-old Minnesota man for allegedly setting the fire that destroyed the oldest modern orthodox synagogue in Northern Minnesota.
At a Sunday news conference, Police Chief Mike Tusken said “there is no reason to believe this is a bias or hate crime” at this time. Authorities have not determined the motive.
According to Duluth fire chief Shawn Krizaj, firefighters responded to the Adas Israel Congregation at 2:30 a.m., Monday. Krizaj explained at Sunday’s news conference that the fire initiated outside of the building but “quickly spread through voids in the wall space and spread throughout the synagogue.”
The structure was consumed by flames until dawn when it collapsed. It took five hours of hosing down the building before the fire subsided, leaving behind charred debris, which Duluth assistant fire chief Brent Consie called, “pretty much a total loss.”
Local police and fire departments and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have collaborated since Monday to determine the fire’s cause. The investigation is still ongoing.
Rabbi Phillip Sher, who leads the Adas Israel Congregation, called the firefighters “heroic.”
“They went into a building that was still burning to save some of our artifacts,” he said. “The bravery of these men is just incredible.”
Police said that they arrested Amiot on Friday but postponed a news conference to announce additional details to Sunday, so the Jewish community could observe the Sabbath.
At the Sunday news conference, Amiot, who was not Jewish, was unknown to the Adas Israel Congregation. He is being held in the St. Louis County jail and will appear at court in Duluth on Monday.
The Adas Israel Congregation, built in 1901 and founded by Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, housed approximately 40 families and 75 members.
On Sunday, Sher said he was consoling and reassuring his members, noting that “true Judaism is in the heart, not in the building.”
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Deanna Paul