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Vacant Lafayette synagogue destroyed by fire

Temple Shalom Lafayette fire.jpg
Posted at 6:45 AM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 23:37:05-04

Lafayette firefighters are investigating a fire at an abandoned synagogue.

The building, located in the 1500 block of Kaliste Saloom Road, was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived shortly before 6 a.m. As firefighters arrived, the flames were extended above the trees on the property. The two-alarm fire resulted in 30 firefighters and seven apparatus arriving on scene. The blaze was brought under control within twenty minutes. No injuries were reported, but the building itself was completely destroyed.

This fire comes one day after the currently occupied synagogue in New Iberia caught on fire, but firefighters tell us that, although they're still investigating the cause of that fire, it definitely was not intentionally set.

According to the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities website, the synagogue on Kaliste Saloom Road was closed in the 1990s. It was built by a group of congregants who had split from the existing Rodeph Shalom temple in the 1970s to form the Yeshurun Synagogue. That group rejoined the original synagogue in the early 1990s, and Yeshurun Synagogue was closed. The building was shortly occupied by another religious entity in 2010.

"It hasn't been occupied since 2016, but there's no markings, there's no indication that it was previously [a synagogue]," said Lafayette Fire Department spokesman Alton Trahan. The building was surrounded by overgrown brush and trees. It was considered blighted property, with grafitti on the exterior. Neighbors reported seeing individuals entering the abandoned property in the past, Trahan added.

Rabbi Barry Weinstein used to lead services at Yeshurun Synagogue years ago.

"It was certainly very beautiful as a synagogue, and [the congregants] were extremely warm to me," said Weinstein.

The property is currently owned by Investar Bank, sold to the company six years ago. The utility service was disconnected four years ago, said Trahan.

"It's just a matter of communicating with them to kind of see what kind of activity they had, if the building was unsecured, which is one of our concerns to see whether or not somebody had been recently accessing the building," said Trahan.

"My glass is always half full, as people who know me would comment," said Weinstein. "I'm hoping and praying that this was not anything malicious but some sort of accident that happened inside the temple... the former temple."

Lafayette Fire investigators, along with Louisiana State Fire Marshal investigators and agents with Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms were involved in examining the structure. The building was not secured. Investigators determined the fire originated on the interior. Trahan said there was evidence found in the burnt structure that indicates the possibility of someone squatting inside.

The exact cause is under investigation.

If you have any information about the fire, call the Lafayette Fire Department at 337-291-8716 or Lafayette Crime Stoppers at 232-TIPS.

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