Tisha B’Elul in Duluth, Minnesota – Another Minnesota Miracle – 8 Sefer Torahs Saved from an Inferno


When I first heard of the fire in a Minnesota shul named Adas Israel, I immediately thought of the synagogue with the same name in St. Paul, where I would daven when I spent Shabbat at Lubavitch as I mentioned in previous Blogs.

But this time, it was Adas Israel in Duluth, a city I visited a few times when I was very young. Duluth and sister city Superior, are known as the Twin Ports. Though each city is in a different state, they are located right next to each other, and on the shoreline of Lake Superior, one of the five Great Lakes.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are known as the Twin Cities and also situated next to each other.  They are divided by the Mississippi River, which has its source in Lake Itasca, Minnesota.

Now here we have a synagogue fire that started just two days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 disaster which is known primarily for its attack on the Twin Towers.

And to add intrigue into this whole story, it happens two days after Parshat Shoftim is read throughout the world.  I pointed out in previous Blogs the number of times two words repeat themselves in the Haftorah and Torah. Minnesota has a name with letter “n” repeating itself twice and its largest city Minneapolis also with the same pattern.

In the name Mississippi, three times letters repeat themselves and that river has its source in Minnesota.

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system.  It flows generally south for 2,320 miles (3,730 km)[15] to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. Therefore, the Mississippi River begins and ends in places with twin letters just like in Shoftim with many twin words.

Ok. so now that you have had your geography lesson for today, what does this all mean? And how does that tie in with the fire in Duluth. I am not saying I have all the answers but I want to take an educated guess on this one.

In a previous Blog, I mention the words that I remember when our Rabbi would end Shabbat services with the Bar Mitzvah boy standing at his side on stage at our conservative synagogue in St. Louis Park. The words were “The Torah Is A Tree Of Life To Those That Are Faithful To It”.

Now let us focus on what just happened in Duluth. This is  the 18th Anniversary of 9/11. The number 18 in Hebrew is known as Chai or Life. When we think of life we naturally think of all living beings on this earth, as well as those things that grow in the ground etc. Hashem gives life to everything and as long as it is living it grows and grows. But once that stops, then the growth stops as well.

I want you to read closely the article I obtained permission from the Duluth News Tribune.

I also want to add some more reporting from the Times of Israel that appeared yesterday.

I reached out to Chabad Shaliach Mendy Ross who serves the area and this was his response to the situation-

“We are an Orthodox congregation, however Adas Israel is still around and will continue in some capacity G-D willing. We have offered them to join us and to help in any way we can. We will respect their wishes and decisions about what they decide to do going forward

We have been here a little bit less then a year. We serve Jews throughout Northern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. I live here with my wife and 3 children.”

I remember Duluth being a very quiet town and it appears that is still the case since despite the fact that the Adas Israel was destroyed by fire, no evidence of arson exists at this moment, thereby making this something which is an event controlled by G-d.

Let’s zero in on one of the amazing facts that came out of this story The fact that there were 14 Torah Scrolls in the building, and 8 were saved. Now I want you to take a good look at the report from the Duluth newspaper which has pictures of the destroyed synagogue. Even the report calls this a miracle and you can easily see why when looking at all the pictures.

I mentioned previously that we moved to Neve Yaakov from the Absorption Center and one of the first experiences I had was being at a ceremony to bury three Sefer Torahs that had been vandalized and were beyond repair. Neve Yaakov is a very religious northern suburb of Jerusalem, At that ceremony were many learned Rabbis who took turns pleading with G-d why this had to happen, many openly crying with tears running down their eyes. When the ceremony was over the Sefer Torahs were taken for burial.

At first, I was amazed that these rabbis were so emotional over Sefer Torahs, but then since that time I have realized that to them, burying a Sefer Torah is like burying a human being. Well, not exactly, but the idea is the same because if the Torah is our tree of life, then we must respect the Torah just like those Rabbis did and will always do.

So to translate this into lessons we can learn from this Duluth fire. There were 8 Torah Scrolls that survived out of 14, that is more than half. If you look at what remains of the building, the more logical conclusion would be that we would be lucky to see even one or two survive that inferno. But G-d is on a much higher plane than mother nature, and he’s our captain who is driving the bus and at the controls of our ship.

. The number, eight, represents G‑d’s transcendence above and beyond this world.

Eight is a number above the ways of the world – Our normal weekly cycle is 7 days, Shavuot is based on 7 weeks. There are eight Chanukah Candles, when there was only enough oil to last for one day, they lasted 8 days. A baby boy has his bris on the 8th day, but a woman does not have to go through that process.

Think about all the things you take for granted in the world we live in, all are part of G-d’s plan and when something out of the ordinary happens we must pay attention. In simplistic terms, its like what took place on the day of 9/11. One plane crashing into the World Trade Center was perhaps an accident, but a second one taking place at around the same time was no accident. There are many examples each of us can think of that took place in our personal lives.

But here we have a miracle that took place – 8 Torah Scrolls Saved From An Inferno. There is no other way to describe it. It seems that given the place, time, the sparce Jewish population, this is all one big miracle rolled up into one.

And to top it off, the Adas Israel Building was built nearly 120 years ago and was destroyed shortly before reaching 120 which we all know is the time span of man.

So now the Adas Israel congregation of Duluth is going to have to decide where to go to from here, but there is no doubt we should all appreciate the fact that G-d watches all of us and creates miracles such as this. From every difficult moment emerges a moment of hope that peace will once again rule the world.

Hopefully sooner than we think.

May all those affected by the 9/11 Attack  be comforted to know that we will never forget what you experienced that fateful day.

And we hope the members of Adas Israel find a new home very soon and to make you aware of various websites that have sprung up for anyone wishing to make a donation to this cause.

About the Author
Born and raised in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. Married to a South African, we lived in Johannesburg from 1979 to 1996. Made Aliyah with our seven children on Parshat Lech Lecha. BSB Accounting Degree from the University of Minnesota. Investment Portfolio Manager /Fundamental And Technical Analyst. Wrote in-depth research on companies, markets, commodities for leading financial publications. Served in the US Army Reserves Semi Retired spending quality time with my wife, children, grandchildren and attend Kollel while analyzing current events as they relate to Torah and Mitzvahs.
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