A 71-year-old man is in custody after police said he set fire to the roof of a historic synagogue in Brooklyn while working there Tuesday morning.
No one was inside the Bnai Adath Kol Beth Yisrael synagogue on Patchen Avenue in Brooklyn-Stuyvesant when the fire broke out, so firefighters focused on rescuing sacred scrolls and Torahs.
Fire officials said two men were working on the roof, one of them using a blow torch, when one of them, Caesar Raynor, allegedly set it on fire. Police have charged Raynor with reckless endangerment.
"There were two men on the roof," said the Rev. Patrick Henry, a pastor at a church down the block who saw the fire break out. "And they were running in, and appears that one came out with a bucket of water to pour on the flames. We began to call out to him, concerned about his safety."
Fire officials said the flames spread quickly, largely because the synagogue was built so long ago.
"Many of these old houses of worship, these synagogues, these churches, they're very old," said FDNY Deputy Chief Kevin Woods. "They have many voids, and the fire travels in these hidden voids, so it's a very, very difficult fire to fight."
The synagogue was built more than 100 years ago and has changed hands over the years, according to Rabbi Baruch Yehudah. It now belongs to the Bnai Adath Kol Beth Yisrael, an African American Jewish congregation that identifies as Israelites.
"This breaks my heart because I've been here as long as I can remember," said congregant Kavah Levi. "I've serviced God in this place here, and to see it in this condition, I feel lost."
"This is our home, we've been here since '67," said Yehudah. "There are people that have been members of this congregation for over 50 years. It's heartbreaking."
It's not clear if Raynor has an attorney who could comment on the charges.