By ALAN SMASON
A kitchen fire apparently sparked by a self-cleaning oven engulfed the Congregation Beth Israel rabbinic home in flames late Tuesday afternoon, April 19, totally destroying its contents.
Rabbi Gabriel Greenberg, his wife Abby and their two small children were not inside the home at 4411 Cleary Avenue in Metairie when the blaze broke out shortly before 4:30 p.m. The rabbi and the children were in the back yard when the kitchen erupted in flames as Passover preparations were being made. Greenberg called the alarm in and East Jefferson Consolidated Fire Department responders were on the scene within a few minutes of the initial call, but by the time the fire was brought under control, the home had suffered extensive damage from the blaze in addition to significant heat, smoke and water damage.
Reports indicate that the fire spread quickly from the kitchen in the rear to the front of the residence, generating enough heat to melt vinyl siding affixed to the home. Fire officials gave an estimated cost of damages at $120,000 at the scene, but many of the items lost or destroyed were of sentimental value and deemed irreplaceable.
Insurance adjusters have been on the scene and contractors are being consulted to determine the extent of the damage. Bradley Bain, the president of the congregation, is cautiously optimistic that the residence can be restored, but no time table has been given yet on when the job might be completed. The question also remains as to whether another nearby residence will be rented for the rabbi and his family during this period.
While the Greenbergs have found temporary lodging for the upcoming Passover holiday, much of the chore of rebuilding and repairing has fallen upon Beth Israel’s Board of Directors. Bain noted in an email message that rebuilding “will undoubtedly be a slow and painful process. While the extent of the damage has yet to be fully assessed, we do know they will be temporarily uprooted and forever miss the heirlooms, sentimental objects, and mementos consumed in today’s fire.”
In response to the immediate needs of the Greenberg family, a Go Fund Me online fundraising account was established in their name. That campaign had already reached more than $67,000 from approximately 880 donors.
Congregation Beth Israel is also accepting donations for the Greenberg family through its own website.
In speaking to the CCJN via telephone, Bain noted that the Go Fund Me site was not set up by the congregation and that it does carry an administrative fee in addition to a processing fee for each credit card transaction.
“We still have to pay a merchant processing fee to run a credit card, but that’s still better than the five per cent that they are taking out for an administrative fee,” he explained. “(As for) the money that is donated to Beth Israel, 100% of that money would actually go to Rabbi Gabe and Abby.”
Passover meals for the first two days were provided to the Greenberg family and a “meal train” is being generated within the congregation to deliver kosher meals during the Chol Hamoed period that continues through Thursday night, he said.
“There is also a very short list just for Passover,” Bain said. These include a high chair for the baby. The Greenbergs are also accepting donations of clothing as their entire wardrobe was destroyed.
For more information about donations, call 504-454-5080.