Minnesota police announce arrest in synagogue fire

Firefighters in Duluth, Minn., battled a blaze at the Adas Israel Congregation last week.
Firefighters in Duluth, Minn., battled a blaze at the Adas Israel Congregation last week.Dan Kraker/Minnesota Public Radio via Associated Press./Minnesota Public Radio via AP

Authorities in northern Minnesota said they had made an arrest in connection with a fire that destroyed a synagogue last week, which came amid a rise in anti-Semitic crimes and rhetoric.

The fire, reported early last Monday, tore through the 118-year-old Adas Israel Congregation synagogue in Duluth just weeks before the Jewish High Holy Days. A firefighter who responded to the scene was injured.

Local officials initially said there were no signs of substances that would suggest arson, but later announced new evidence. Details about that evidence, the arrest, and a motive remained unclear. Police initially planned to provide an update on the case Saturday, but delayed their news conference until midday Sunday because of the Jewish Shabbat, or Sabbath.


“We wish the Duluth Jewish community a peaceful and restful Shabbat as we continue to offer our full support,” Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said in a statement after the arrest was announced.

Adas Israel Congregation has been a hub for northeastern Minnesota’s small Jewish community for well over a century. Founded by Lithuanian immigrants in 1885, according to the Minnesota Historical Society, the congregation began building its synagogue near Duluth’s downtown in 1901. According to the St. Paul Jewish Federation, the congregation has about 75 members.

Duluth police said Friday that they had finished their investigation and made an arrest, but did not provide details. Online records showed that a 36-year-old man from Duluth was booked into the county jail on suspicion of arson around the time police announced an arrest.

The fire has followed a wave of anti-Semitic crimes — including the killing of 11 people last year at a Pittsburgh synagogue — that the Anti-Defamation League said has reached alarmingly high levels.

Minnesota politicians from both parties, including Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, Republican Representative Pete Stauber, and Democratic Governor Tim Walz, sent messages of support on social media after the fire.


“Adas Israel Congregation of Duluth was an important faith home for many,” Democratic Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota said on Twitter. “Sending peace to the community, and gratitude to all who helped respond to this emergency in the middle of the night.”