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Wynnefield Shul Persists Despite Fire Damage

June 29, 2011
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Members of Congregation Raim Ahuvim will try to solicit donations to repair damage to their Wynnefield Orthodox shul caused by an electrical fire last week, president Marvin Gornish said this week.

While no one was injured in the fire, the financial wound it left behind threatens the future of the tiny congregation. Gornish said he wasn't sure how much it would cost to fix the charred roof and back room of the building, but the shul will have to shoulder the entire expense because dwindling membership had already left insufficient funds to carry fire insurance.

Flames were bursting from the back of the second floor when fire companies arrived at the building on the 5800 block of Drexel Road around 1 a.m. on Wednesday, June 22, said Philadelphia Fire Department spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Thompson. A report from the fire marshal blamed wiring in the ceiling and roof for starting the blaze.

The former mansion has been home to Raim Ahuvim since 1958, Gornish said, though the congregation itself started in South Philadelphia in the 1890s. It relocated to West Philadelphia around 1929 before migrating again to its current home, the "last bastion" of Orthodox congregations in Wynnefield, Gornish said.

Gornish, 71, lives next door, in the carriage house his father had purchased from the shul.

Despite the fire damage, Gornish said he and four other remaining shul members, along with a handful of students from the nearby Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, have still been able to hold daily morning minyan on the first floor.

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