A fire that damaged the Brith Sholem synagogue in December became a cause for celebration as members and friends met over the weekend to reopen the restored building.
"I don't know if you could say it was the best thing that ever happened to the synagogue, but it certainly was a blessing in disguise," congregation secretary Robert Brodstein said.The fire provoked an outpouring of donations, spearheaded in part by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that provided enough money to not only replace what the fire took but also allow upgrading of plumbing and electrical wiring, replacement of an ancient furnace and the addition of stained glass to synagogue windows.
"It was adequate before, but now it's a gem of a synagogue," Brodstein said. "People were overwhelmed by the rebuilding."
On Saturday, about 65 people joined in a procession to the synagogue to celebrate the reopening with ceremonies that included the return of the synagogue's scripture, the Torah, to the Ark of the Covenant. Sabbath services led by Utah's only rabbi capped the ceremonies.
Last year, Ogden fire officials initially estimated damage at about $5,000, but the figure climbed when the full extent of smoke and heat damage was finally determined. Brodstein said the small meeting place basically had to be gutted.
But then a wave of community goodwill broke out.
A Mormon Church member in Panguitch, Judy Savage, launched her own fund-raising drive that led to her presentation of a "significant" check to the Brith Sholem congregation, Brodstein said.
Other denominations joined in. Eventually Mormon leadership contacted every stake president in northern Utah to raise funds for the tiny Ogden congregation, population 35 or so families.
Word spread to the publication International Jewish News, bringing in contributions from as far away as Boston and Denver.
The congregation's insurance provided about half the cost of rebuilding while the donations made up the other half for a final price tag of roughly $80,000.
"It's not just the physical things, the repairs, but the emotional things," Brodstein said. "The congregation has come together. And the community support. What happened in Panguitch sort of makes you feel warm all over.
"It's turned into something very wonderful and inspiring. We feel closer to our non-Jewish neighbors and friends and hope fully they feel closer to and more aware of us. Today was a joyous day," he said.
Police and fire officials theorized the series of small fires that broke out in the synagogue on Dec. 30 were set on purpose. No arrests were made.
While some members of the congregation believe it was anti-Semitic, Brodstein says he doubts it because no Jewish artifacts were destroyed.