MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Police in Duluth say they have no reason to believe last week’s synagogue fire was an act of hate — but they do think the fire was set on purpose.

Police arrested a 36-year-old man Friday: a Duluth resident with no permanent address. The Duluth police chief says he is familiar with the suspect but there are no prior offenses as serious as arson on that person’s record.

Even though police say that they don’t think this synagogue fire was fueled by hate, it has still been a tough time for the synagogue members. That’s been made a little bit easier with the huge outpouring of support from across the country and world.

“It’s a little easier today because I’m getting so used to it, but I’m still numb,” said Adas Israel Congregation Synagogue Vice President, Sam Ponush.

It’s been nearly a week since the synagogue burned down. Fire officials say the old wood style made it tough to fight the flames.

“As you can see, this is all pure wood,” said Ponush.

“I’ve done a number of funerals and this is very much like it its like a period of mourning,” said synagogue member Phillip Sher.

Members are slowly learning more about what happened and why.

“At this moment in time there is no reason to believe that this is a bias or hate crime,” said Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken.

Accelerants were not used. Police used surveillance video and canvassed the neighborhood to identify their suspect.

“It’s good to know and probably ultimately reassuring to the community that this was an act not necessarily out of malice,” said Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Firefighters went into the burning synagogue to save some priceless pieces and one firefighter is still recovering from injuries.

“We feel proud that we could help them save some things that are really important to them,” said Duluth Fire Chief, Shawn Krizaj.

As you walk around what’s left of the synagogue, you can still see charred prayer books through the mangled debris: a reminder of the faith that is stronger than this building.

“True Judaism is in the heart. I’s not in the building and our legacy will go along with our hearts,” said Sher.

For now, until the members find a new home, they’ll be using community spaces and even some of the members’ houses. Leaders say it’s possible they’ll have to find a new home in the city for good.

Synagogue officials say they are not asking for donations at this time, so watch out for fake fundraisers.

Officials say the suspect should have his day in court this week.

Erin Hassanzadeh

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