Austin synagogue to undergo ‘extensive’ repairs after fire set by arsonist

Austin
Congregation Beth Israel fire

The Austin Fire Department Tweeted this photo of a fire started outside a synagogue in Central Austin Sunday Night. (Austin Fire Department/Twitter)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The sanctuary of an Austin synagogue that was the target of arson on Halloween night will be closed for longer than expected, due to the “extensive and expensive” repairs needed.

Austin firefighters are still looking for the suspect who started the fire at Congregation Beth Israel off Shoal Creek Boulevard using an accelerant.

Congregation Beth Israel leaders say inspectors looking at the damage to the chapel and sanctuary have found it to be more serious than previously thought.

“What we initially thought (and hoped) amounted to minimal, external damage to the Sanctuary doors, has turned out to be much more extensive,” Rabbi Steve Folberg and CBI President Lori Adelman said in a Nov. 9 newsletter.

They point out the smoke damage is “very extensive,” and every surface will need to be scrubbed down and/or torn out and replaced. A fire remediation company is using special equipment to get rid of the smoky smell.

The newsletter says the company also found the presence of asbestos in some materials used for the ceiling and other surfaces, so those areas will need to be stripped and rebuilt, too.

In the meantime, as the sanctuary undergoes its necessary repairs, CBI will be holding Shabbat and other services in Smith Auditorium.

For this Friday night only, services will be solely live-streamed from the auditorium to test out the equipment. CBI says if everything goes well, you’ll be able to attend Friday night and Shabbat morning services in the auditorium in person on Nov. 19 and Nov. 20.

CBI also revealed security camera footage from inside the sanctuary shows the fire accelerant seeping under the sanctuary doors and onto the stone tile floors of the foyer, just before the arsonist set it on fire.

CBI leaders say the investigation being conducted by the Austin Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Austin Fire Department is still ongoing, and leaders have been exchanging info regularly.

CBI also says it has received more than $33,000 donations online for repairs from across the country. Leaders say the encouragement and support “has lifted all of [their] spirits.”

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