The Chabad Center for Jewish Life caught fire overnight but remained largely intact Friday morning, with a quick response from local firefighters limiting the most significant damage to the exterior and roof of the Pleasanton synagogue.
The Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department reported finding no immediate indications of arson but is still trying to determine what caused the fire just after midnight Friday, and Chabad leaders are thankful no one was hurt and their building is still standing.
"An incredible thank-you to the firefighters who saved the building. They saved the Torahs and because of them we have our building," Rabbi Raleigh Resnick, spiritual leader of the Chabad of the Tri-Valley, told the Weekly outside the synagogue mid-morning Friday. "As a community, we will come together and rebuild, and it will be grander and greater than it was before."
Resnick said he's not sure how the fire ignited on the outside of the building when the Hopyard Road property should have been unoccupied for hours, but he is not jumping to any conclusions about the cause.
"It's important to not get the people up in arms that 'they're burning down synagogues,'" the Rabbi said. "There's no signs of arson ... But it's certainly suspicious that a fire would start in the middle of the night. We don't know."
The flames were first spotted around 12:45 a.m. Friday coming from the Chabad Center at the corner of Hopyard Road and South Valley Trails Drive, according to LPFD battalion chief Jason Solak.
Firefighters arrived to the one-story building within six minutes of the initial call and used an aggressive attack to contain the flames to the exterior and roof area in the back half of the building, gaining control of the fire within 30 minutes, Solak said.
The exterior wall in the backyard and patio area sustained significant damage, as did parts of the walls on either adjoining side, the eaves and roof. Inside, there was some minor fire damage in the dining room but smoke and water damage occurred throughout the interior as firefighters worked successfully to keep the flames out of the interior.
No injuries were reported in what was classified as a one-alarm fire, according to LPFD deputy chief Joe Testa. Alameda County Fire Department crews assisted in the initial response, and LPFD firefighters remained on scene for four hours.
"The cause of the fire is under a joint investigation by the Pleasanton Police Department and Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department. As of now there are no indications of arson," Testa said. A damage estimate is not available yet.
Resnick said he got the call around 1 a.m. Friday that a fire was raging at the Chabad Center and immediately rushed to the property at 3370 Hopyard Road.
He said the synagogue was empty when he locked up for the night Thursday around 10 p.m., so knowing nobody was inside the building, his thoughts turned to the sacred Torah scrolls. He said he arrived to see the Chabad Center in flames but as he tried to go inside to save the scrolls, police and fire personnel held him back -- but firefighters were soon able to remove the scrolls undamaged.
The Rabbi, who'd been back and forth to the Chabad Center during and after the fire, said around 10:30 a.m. Friday that he was grateful for the quick and thorough response of the fire crews that kept the building standing and intact, especially considering how intense the exterior flames appeared the night before.
"Big blessing. Big miracle," Resnick said. "We're here. Everybody's safe. We have the building. We have the Torah scrolls."
With the building unusable, Resnick said he was reaching out to local hotels for conference room space in which to hold services in the coming days before finding a longer-term solution after the fire.
The Hopyard Road property had been the Chabad's home since the group purchased it from the Pleasanton Masons in September 2017. The acquisition marked a key turning point for the Chabad, giving the growing orthodox Jewish organization -- that started in the Resnicks' living room more than a decade ago -- a permanent location after years moving through meeting rooms and leased space.
The Chabad's operational and expansion plans for the site resulted in nearly a year of public debate, including several tense city hearings, as some Valley Trails residents who supported Chabad arriving in their neighborhood were concerned with potential noise and crowd issues from expanded day care operations and non-religious outdoor events.
By April, Chabad, their neighbors and city leaders had all endorsed an amicable solution, and Resnick said with the city approvals in-hand, he was ready to meet with architects soon to finalize plans although no onsite work had begun yet in the 39-year-old building.
The Chabad Center is located on a prominent corner of Hopyard Road, on a block with strong religious presence. The property shares a parking lot with St. Clare's Episcopal Church, and across the street is Harvest Valley Christian Church.