Next Steps for Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue on Norfolk

Posted on: December 28th, 2012 at 10:23 am by

beth-hamidrash-norfolk

You’ve walked by it; you’ve stopped and marveled at its architecture and been dismayed at its disrepair. Or maybe you scooted past without even noticing this monstrously elegant and marvelous structure named Beth Hamedrash Hagadol.  And it’s been standing strong at 60 Norfolk Street (despite fires and floods) since 1850.

The historic structure received landmark status in 1967, and now, this very-hard-to-believe and disturbing news has washed over the Lower East Side.

The leadership of the synagogue itself has asked for permission to DEMOLISH the building, citing that it is 45,000 square-feet of potential residential real estate and a new space for the congregation to flourish. Plucked from the application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission:

The building is over 160 years old ad significant funds are required to maintain the facility. As well as the storm [Hurricane Sandy], the Synagogue was the victim of a fire in 2001 that generated significant repair costs. These extraordinary costs, coupled with annual maintenance needs, have severely strained the dwindling Congregation’s limited resources. As a result, the Synagogue’s physical plant has suffered greatly. The damage from the storm and fire has never been fully repaired due to the lack of funds.

The Applicant’s proposal solves this problem. A new Synagogue will rise on the same location. The program will be designed to accommodate the Congregations’s religious needs and, most importantly, a permanent display of the Synagogues’s 160-year history. The residential building will be the funding source to rebuild and permanently maintain the Synagogue.

Boogie was told exclusively that Sacred Sites is getting involved and that demolition is by no means a done deal.

image

From the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy:

This striking example of Gothic Revival architecture houses the oldest orthodox congregation of Russian Jews in the United States. The congregation was founded in 1852 and has occupied the building since 1885. Originally built in 1850 as the Norfolk Street Baptist Church, it was sold to a Methodist congregation in 1860.

Rabbi Jacob Joseph, the first and only Chief Rabbi of New York City, led the congregation from 1888 to 1902. Born in Kovno, Lithuania in 1848, he studied in the Volozhin yeshiva where he was known as “Rav Yaakov Charif” because of his sharp mind.

He arrived in New York in 1888 to unite the orthodox Ashkenazi community under a single leadership. He helped to create a European-style orthodox community in New York, with a rabbinic leadership and a rabbinic court.

Rabbi Ephraim Oshry (1914-2003), an internationally recognized scholar, led the congregation for 50 years. His son-in-law, Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum, currently serves as Rabbi of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol. Through Rabbi Oshry’s remarkable efforts, it was designated a New York City landmark in 1967 after it was threatened with demolition. It was one of the first New York City synagogues to have received this honor and the first in Lower Manhattan.

Word broke over the summer that the synagogue, which has been closed now for four years, was soliciting funding from real estate developers. Their pleas went unanswered and so here we are.

Yet another Lower East Side landmark on the endangered list. Our [LES] history is being torn down at an alarming rate.

You want to do something about it? Me, too.

Contact any of these organizations. Tell them you want to help. Or if they’re not involved already, see if they want to partake in a LES-wide Save the Synagogue:

By the by, if you need some inspiration as to what this place could become – think the Angel Orensanz Center (originally, Anshe Chesed Synagogue; also formerly known as the Norfolk Street Congregation and Anshe Slonim Synagogue). A similar situation with a very happy ending; though this would be a tad different, allowing the congregation to remain year round.

Check out some pictures of the synagogue throughout the years:

As for us, we will keep you updated as the situation progresses.

’til then…

Recent Stories

Photo: The Corpse Corps
The World Isn’t Ready for Julian Casablancas + the Voidz

The world isn’t ready for Julian Casablancas + The Voidz. Just like The Strokes were the pioneers of the post punk indie revival, the latest endeavor by Julian Casablancas is exponentially kicking it up a notch in the musical avant-garde. Deceptive in the simplicity of its track titles (“Nintendo Blood,” “Xerox,” “Business Dog”), the band’s latest album Tyranny forces you to take a […]

moscot-band
Moscot has a House Band with Dr. Moscot on Guitar

Moscot rocks out with the best of ‘em. The last two consecutive Thursdays, after hours, we spotted a four-piece band rehearsing inside the Orchard Street store. A double take proved that fourth-generation owner Dr. Harvey Moscot was indeed wielding a six-string (i.e. Fender Stratocaster). Moscot PR tells us that the house band is called “The […]

duchesse-orchard-2
New Orchard Street Bakery ‘Les Jardins de la Duchesse’ Will Carry a Bacon-Wrapped Eclair

Modern Fashion & Style on Orchard Street closed over the summer so that a new French bakery could sling pastries. During those interim months, contractors have been tearing apart the commercial space of 138 Orchard. We heard chatter along the way that the newcomer was some sort of bakery. Confirmation arrived yesterday afternoon with the new store […]

Photo: TH
Councilwoman Margaret Chin Calls for New 25 MPH Speed Limit Signs Along South Street

In a couple weeks (November 7), the city speed limit will shift to the lower default of 25 mph, following legislation that was recently passed into law. Councilwoman Margaret Chin is on the offensive, demanding proper street signage for the most dangerous traffic corridors. In a letter to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, she singles out […]

aaa-ichiban-closed-2
AAA Ichiban Sushi on Orchard Street Closes Ahead of Ben Shaoul Development

The northeast corner of Orchard and East Houston is slowly giving up the ghost. As we’ve been reporting, controversial landlord Ben “Sledgehammer” Shaoul purchased the L-shaped low-rise strip and is gradually booting the businesses. We lost Bereket and Philly’s Cheese Steak over the summer; Taqueria will soon move up to St. Mark’s Place and received blessings from […]