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Witness: Rabbi runs into burning synagogue to save Torah


NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — As a fire raged through a historic city synagogue Friday afternoon, the congregation’s longtime rabbi apparently raced into the burning building to rescue the Sefer Torah.

“I saw him watching the firemen go in. I knew inside they had the Sefer Torah,” said Donny Zinkin, whose condominium is just doors away from Congregation Poile Zedek, an Orthodox Ashkenazic synagogue inNew Brunswick.

Zinkin said he asked Rabbi Abraham Mykoff if he needed help because he knew the Sefer Torah, a handwritten holy scroll, would be the one thing he would be most concerned about. He said Mykoff then ran into the synagogue and grabbed the Sefer Torah.

“When he came out, he gave it to me,” said Zinkin, who has lived near the synagogue for 15 years and has known the rabbi, a Highland Park resident, for many years and called him “a very good guy.”

Zinkin said he asked the rabbi if he should go in to get the other torahs, but Mykoff told him that as he grabbed the Sefer Torah the ceiling collapsed behind him.

“It was pretty crazy. It’s a pretty bad fire,” Zinkin said about the fire that broke out Friday afternoon with flames that firefighters battled to contain while also saving neighboring townhouses.

Zinkin said the damage to the New Brunswick synagogue looked pretty bad.

“It’s a gorgeous old synagogue,” said Zinkin, who remembers the synagogue being there when he was a child.

Around 4:19 p.m., city firefighters received a call reporting smoke within the synagogue. Firefighters responded within minutes to discover smoke in various spots in the building, and shortly thereafter, flames broke through the roof, according to a news release from the New Brunswick mayor’s office.

One person was inside the building at the time of the call but got out safely. No injuries were reported. Nearby buildings were evacuated as a precaution. The cause of the fire is not yet known, the release states.

A second alarm was transmitted as flames were apparently through the roof of the building and all firefighters were ordered to evacuate.

A third alarm was transmitted around 5 p.m.

The synagogue site near Route 18 was purchased in 1905. In 1923, the cornerstone ceremony was held and a year later the building was completed and began operating, according to the synagogue’s website. At that time, the congregation changed the name to Poile Zedek, which means “doers of righteousness.”

In 1995, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s really been here all this time doing a lot of work for the community,” New Brunswick Councilman John Anderson


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