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Fire destroys building housing synagogue in Rockland County

Volunteers race to save Torah scrolls after Rockland County synagogue fire
Volunteers race to save Torah scrolls after Rockland County synagogue fire 01:51

POMONA, N.Y. -- There was an unusual rescue mission Wednesday after a fire destroyed a synagogue in Rockland County.

Three sacred Torah scrolls were buried in the rubble of the collapsed building.

CBS New York watched safety patrol volunteers race against the clock to save them.

Brute force was necessary to complete the delicate mission.

"The challenge is to take out the Torah scrolls and open the safe, as quick as we can," said Josef Margaretten of Chaverim of Rockland.

Margaretten led the team of Chaverim safety patrol volunteers who worked for an hour to open the safe containing sacred Torah scrolls which was shut tight due to fire damage to the locking mechanism.

Chopper 2 was over the scene early Wednesday as fire consumed Chassidim of the Heights. Officials said 80% of the synagogue was destroyed by a fire and the rest was later knocked down for safety reasons.

"Our detectives, along with the Rockland County Arson Investigation Unit, are doing an investigation to see if we can figure out the origin, maybe what could have started this," Haverstraw Police Capt. John Gould said.

The focus quickly shifted to the safe containing the Torah scrolls, which are considered sacred and are treated with great care.

"We literally make a funeral for a lost scroll, if we can't repair it," said Steven Goldenberg of the Chaverim of Rockland County.

When they pulled the safe up out of the basement, water was seen pouring out of it. It took a buzz saw and crowbars to finally open the safe and reach the scrolls, which were then wrapped in plastic and rushed to a nearby home.

"It was a sad sight, to have to hold it in a bag and not know what its condition and what it's currently at," Goldenberg said.

Photos show severe damage to two of the Torahs, adding another layer to the terrible loss for this congregation.

Google Street View shows the beautiful building that is now reduced to ashes.

Congregants said they will rebuild.

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