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Arson Fire Burns San Jose Synagogue; Police Say It Doesn't Look Like Hate Crime

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- San Jose police said they're looking for someone who lit a fire in the carport of a local synagogue Wednesday morning. The blaze spread to the main sanctuary, causing major damage.

Investigators said the arson at The Chabad House on the 1000 block of Branham Lane did not appear to be a hate crime but it resulted in the building being uninhabitable.

"I saw the building on fire and I said one thing: we will be stronger," Rabbi Mendel Weinfeld told KPIX, remaining hopeful, even though the fire reduced his Almaden Valley synagogue mostly to rubble. "It's scary to see ... surreal," Rabbi Weinfeld added.

The Chabad House after early morning arson on Dec. 22, 2021. (Mendel Weinfeld)

The San Jose fire department responded to reports of smoke coming from the synagogue around 6:44 a.m. Wednesday. Crews arrived on scene to find the fire had spread from the carport to the attic of the building. Firefighters had the fire under control by 9:44 a.m. and reported no injuries.

Rabbi Mendel, the executive director of the Chabad House, told the San Jose Mercury News that there were no fire alarms in the synagogue, so no one reported the fire until garbage collectors came by on their weekly route. Mendel noted that security cameras picked up the arsonist lighting the fire, as well as bystanders walking by the blaze and not taking action.

While Mendel says the building will need to be torn down after the fire, the synagogue's torah scrolls were saved by quick-thinking first responders and community members.

While investigators search for the arsonist, Mendel started a GoFundMe to raise funds for a new synagogue. Mendel said in a post that he hoped they could raise $500,000.

"God does everything for us ... We're going to rebuild and we will do so much more for the community at large," Rabbi Weinfeld said.

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