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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jews Gather At Burned Synagogue

Members of Moscow's Jewish community gathered Monday to pray at the blackened site of Moscow's Marinoi Roshchi synagogue, which burned down last week in a fire the cause of which is still unknown.

Congregation members said they suspected that arson was behind the blaze that gutted the wooden synagogue just after 5 A.M. Thursday morning.

Moscow police said the fire had been caused by a fault in the electrical wiring and that they were not conducting an investigation.

"I just don't see how that could be an electrical fire," said Moisheye Finkel, 15, a student at the Jewish School, as he examined the charred walls with his father. "It all happened so suddenly."

Only the outside walls and roof of the synagogue remain; the entire interior has been destroyed.

Rabbi Berel Lazar, the head of the synagogue, declined to speculate on the fire's cause, but called on the Moscow authorities to provide more protection. He said the police had told him the fire began in the building's kitchen.

Vladimir Syster, the head of Moscow's northeastern administrative region, attended the meeting outside the building Monday afternoon and pledged the city government's help in reconstructing the small synagogue, one of three in the capital.

Syster said he believed the fire was an electrical one and had not been set deliberately.

"As a religious Orthodox man," said Syster, "I hope it wasn't."

According to Boruch Gorin, who lived in an adjoining house behind the Lubavitch synagogue, located at 5 Second Visheslavstsev Pereulok, the fire swept through the building very quickly.

The night watchman, who would normally have been on duty, was off sick the night of the fire, according to Gorin, who edits the Jewish "Lechaim" magazine. No one was injured in the fire and, in what Gorin called "a miracle," very few of the synagogue's 3,000 books were destroyed in the blaze.

The fire department could not be contacted for further information Monday, as government offices were closed for the holiday, but a full report on the fire is expected on Wednesday.

According to Gorin, the Marinoi Roshchi synagogue, which was built in 1929 and was the only synagogue constructed in the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik Revolution, had an average attendance of about 200 on Saturdays, with up to 1,000 on holidays.

He said that although smaller than Moscow's main synagogue on Arkhipova Street, the Marinoi Roshchi had been the focus for dissident Jewish movements during the Soviet era.

Lazar said that uncovering the truth behind the origin of the fire was "not my main worry," stressing the need to concentrate on rebuilding on the site.

Gorin said emergency funds for a new synagogue had already been set up in the United States and Israel.