BY THE VILLAGE SUN | A fire broke out in a curbside dining shed outside a Jewish religious center on the Lower East Side earlier this week.
Police and firefighters responded to the scene in front of Chabad of the Lower East Side on Mon., Jan. 22, around 2 p.m.
A police spokesperson said there were no injuries from the blaze. The incident apparently is not currently being investigated as a hate crime.
“As of now, there’s no criminality involved,” she said, though adding, “Fire marshals will do their own report on the cause of the fire.”
No one from the Chabad house actually witnessed the fire occur.
A woman who answered the phone there Tuesday said, “The whole back wall [of the shed] kind of fell down. People [originally] worked really hard to put it up. People spent a lot of time painting it over the years. It had a lot of good memories.
“They’re getting [security] camera footage” to try to see what happened, she added.
Rabbi Yisroel Stone, who leads the center, said it’s not clear, at this point, what caused the fire.
“We’re still not sure,” he said. “We don’t know.”
Stone said the group uses the shed as a sukkah – a symbolic “hut in the fields” for the fall harvest holiday of Sukkot — but also, in warm weather, for kiddish after weekend prayer services, when they enjoy food, like kugel (casserole), cholent (stew) and salads and have “a little party.”
Chabad is repairing the damaged structure.
“We’re rebuilding it,” the rabbi said Tuesday. “We already got half of it up by now. … The fire was on top of the sukkah.”
He noted they have three security guards that stand outside the indoor space during weekend prayer services.
Chabad, which is Orthodox, has centers in 100 countries around the world. A focus of the group is outreach to non-observant Jews to get them back in touch with their religious roots. Chabad has been on the Lower East Side for 19 years and at its current location for three.