At a Monday afternoon press conference, Police Chief Mike Tusken said that when officers responded to the scene in the early hours of Monday morning, they had contact with two individuals out in the area, getting their names and contact information. He referred to those two as “persons of interest” that police, fire, and Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators were completing follow up interviews with.
In the aftermath of the fire, 8 of the synagogue’s 14 Torah scrolls were recovered from the basement of the synagogue. The six that didn’t survive the fire were in the upper level.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tusken said that evidence was recovered at the scene, as well as “hundreds of hours of video” from nearby cameras, but at that time gave no details.
Samuel Pomush, one of Adas Israel vice-presidents, was pleased with the investigation.
“They’ve been working really hard,” he said. “It’s a good police department. Tusken has had more than 20 guys working constantly.”
Pomush said one of the big challenges moving forward is where to have the High Holidays.
“We had everything set up a couple weeks ahead of time,” he said. “It’s a big thing in our shul. It leaves everything up in the air. We’ve had some hotels that have offered us rooms for yontif, but we’d have to pre-cook and bring everything in. It was a very kosher synagogue.”
The Minneapolis and St. Paul Jewish Federations have started an emergency fund. Adas Israel Congregation is an Orthodox/high Conservative congregation with a membership of 75. Services are lay-led with daily minyans, Saturday morning and holiday services.
Adas Israel was formed in the 1890s by members of the Moses Montefiore congregation, an earlier Orthodox congregation comprised of Lithuanian Jews. By the turn of the 20th century, there were close to 1,500 Jews living in Duluth, most of who were Russian or Eastern European. The building’s cornerstone was laid in 1901.
Van Daele said that, in haste, the press conference had been scheduled for Saturday during Shabbat, but the city changed the time when it was brought to its attention.
“The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) appreciates the investigation by the Duluth Police Department in conjunction with the Duluth Fire Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives leading to an arrest in connection with the fire at Adas Israel Congregation. We also appreciate officials recognizing the need to move the press conference in observance of Shabbat,” said JCRC Executive Director Steve Hunegs in a statement. “We became aware of the arrest heading into Shabbat and will continue working with the Duluth Police Department to inform the Jewish community of the nature of this arrest as the investigation continues. We will await issuing further comment until charges are filed.
“We wish the Duluth Jewish community a peaceful and restful Shabbat as we continue to offer our full support.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.