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Thursday April 26, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- An apparent kitchen fire ripped through the home of Knesset Israel's rabbi and his family Thursday night, causing minor injuries to two firefighters and extensive damage to the parsonage.

Rabbi David Weiner, his wife, Judith, and their three young children escaped safely from the two-alarm fire at 141 Wendell Ave. Firefighters believe the fire, which was reported around 7 p.m., began accidentally in the first-floor kitchen.

The house, owned by the Conservative synagogue a few blocks away on Colt Road, is still structurally sound, according to Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski. But to be livable again, he estimated the home would require $100,000 in repairs due to extensive fire damage on the first floor and widespread smoke and heat damage on the second floor and attic.

"I feel devastated for the rabbi and his family," said Ed Udel, president of Knesset Israel and a Dalton resident who came to support the Weiners on Thursday night. "We will do whatever we need to do to get them back into their home as quickly as we can."

Udel said he would start getting the word out today about gathering necessary clothing and other items for the family, who planned to stay with a member of the congregation. Then, Udel said, the synagogue would figure out a long-term plan.

Five Pittsfield engines and a ladder truck responded to the blaze, which firefighters had under control by 8:30 p.m. Two firefighters were treated for lacerations, deemed minor, at Berkshire Medical Center, according to Deputy Chief Mark Cancilla.

Fire investigators were still on the scene late Thursday night to determine the exact cause, which firefighters believe may have begun around the stove.

Almost a year ago, an accidental fire devoured a historic apartment building less than 200 feet away from Thursday's blaze, one block over on Bartlett Avenue.

Cheryl McLaughlin and her two teenage children, among the dozens of neighbors who gathered on the street Thursday night, live in the home directly behind the Weiners'. She recalled watching the apartment fire from their front lawn in May 2011.

"I'm sandwiched right in between them," McLaughlin said. "How scary is that?"

Weiner became the synagogue's rabbi in 2009, and had his contract recently renewed because "we think he's fantastic," said Phil Coleman, a neighbor and congregation member.

"I'm quite sure that he'll land on his feet," Coleman added. "He's a real asset to all of us."

To reach Amanda Korman:
akorman@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6243
On Twitter: @mandface