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Urgent call for donations after fire destroys Louisville synagogue, leader stays positive despite new setback

Two separate fires broke out at Chabad of Kentucky on Saturday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Jewish community in Louisville is still devastated, having received more bad news after not one, but two fires destroyed Chabad of Kentucky this weekend.

St. Matthews Fire Department spokesperson Rick Tonini said the first fire broke out around 4 a.m. Saturday while someone was cooking in the kitchen.

He said firefighters fought the fire for three hours and both the Fern Creek and Buechel Fire Departments also responded to the call.

Tonini said the second fire broke out just hours later while two people were in the synagogue sleeping.

According to Tonini, the commander said they are unaware of how the second fire started. Rabbi Avrohom Litvin, regional director of Chabad of Kentucky, said fire investigators said there is no indication of foul play and they will review whatever conclusion the insurance company reaches.

The sanctuary of the Chabad Center was destroyed in the second fire.

"From tables, to chairs, to books, to scrolls, to all kinds of things -- gone, with almost nothing salvageable,” Litvin said.

Now, Litvin says insurance won’t cover the sanctuary, only the items inside. The synagogue is separate from the center. Litvin said this problem would have been resolved next month when they planned to purchase the additional building.

He said donations are needed more than ever.

"I'm sure that the community will come together to help us,” Litvin said.

On Monday, leaders packed dozens of singed Torahs; they have to determine if they're salvageable. If not, they’ll be buried.

"Whenever we have God's name that gets defaced, we bury it just like a human in the cemetery,” Litvin said.

Despite this reality, Litvin reflects on the positive.

"There weren't children playing in this playground. There weren't babies inside with moms,” he said. “There weren't elderly people who couldn't have gotten out. This could have been a terrible disaster and by the grace of God, although the building is gone, everyone is safe, including the Torah scrolls."

In addition, Litvin said he found another special item in the rubble.

"We saved one pair of phylacteries. These are what Jewish men would wear for prayer every day,” he explained.

Soon after, Litvin said a passerby walked up and asked how he can help.

"I said, 'I just saved these tefillin, would you like to put them on?' He said he hadn't done that in 10 or 15 years, but I'll do it today because of the Chabad center,” Litvin recalled.

He said that gave him hope for the future, along with the outpouring of support from Louisville and beyond.

Litvin said they will have a service on Saturday with a location to be announced.

Governor Andy Beshear recently awarded the Chabad center for donating millions worth of items to Western Kentucky after last year's tornados. If you'd like to donate in their time of need, click here.

► Contact reporter Bobbi McSwine at BMcSwine@whas11.com or on Facebook or Twitter  

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