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Fire destroys Thornhill Woods Chabad centre

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The Chabad Russian Center basement shul after the Nov. 9 fire

A fire at the Chabad Russian Center of Thornhill Woods at 8808 Bathurst St. has rendered it unusable and destroyed its makeshift basement shul.

The Nov. 9 blaze occurred somewhere between 1 and 4 p.m. and damaged the centre’s Torah scroll, numerous chumashim and related prayer materials, according to Chanie Hildeshaim, the centre’s co-director.

Hildeshaim, wife of Rabbi Chaim Hildeshaim, the centre’s spiritual leader, told The CJN that the fire likely started as a result of an electrical short circuit and the fire department doesn’t suspect arson.

The centre, a converted bungalow on the southwest corner of Bathurst Street and Autumn Hill Boulevard, is the former home of the now-defunct Ohr Menachem Academy. Chabad rents it from the Jewish Russian Community Centre of Ontario (JRCC), which owns the lot.

The Hildeshaims had hoped to raise enough money to buy the land from the JRCC and expand the centre to accommodate its rapidly growing membership, she said.

About 60 to 100 people attend its Shabbat services each week, the rebbitzen said. The centre has “a few hundred families who would consider themselves members of the shul” though not all are paying members, she added.

Prior to the fire, the couple estimated that the land would cost about $2 million to purchase and “a few million more” to build a proper building and synagogue.

Now, she said, it remains unclear how much it might cost to rebuild, as the basement has to be “gutted” to determine the extent of the heat damage to essential piping and the building’s foundation.

In the meantime, the Hildeshaims are hosting daily prayer services and programming at their nearby home and are also renting space at the North Thornhill Community Centre for various programs.

They’re asking for donations to the centre’s fire relief fund to help with the rebuilding effort and with replacing “all synagogue essentials.”

“We want community members to know that this fire is not going to stop us,” the rebbitzen said. “This is a lesson to us that we have to get stronger. Members for years have been saying we need more space. But we need the community’s help. We need money to rebuild and for a long-term solution and build a building fitting for our community. Let’s build a shul the way a shul should be.”

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