Rabbi Appeals to Area Jews to Keep Spotlight on Destroyed Beth Hamedrash Hagadol
The site of the ruined Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue – felled by fire two weeks ago, has been eerily silent of late. Its hollowed-out sanctuary, for the time being, remains jailed behind a perimeter fence, attracting the gaze of camera-wielding locals.
The 14-year-old who allegedly started the fire – a Lower East Sider – was arrested days after the incident and charged with third-degree arson. A day later, however, the unidentified minor was released into parental custody without any charges, per DNAinfo. The two other kids who were with him during the incident were considered “witnesses,” according to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.
Owner-leader Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum now seeks donations, and implores area Jews to keep the house of worship in the spotlight. How? By inviting bar mitzvah boys to wrap Tefilin or read Torah in front of the ruins, so as to attract media attention.
“Keeping BHH in the public eye and heart is key to any possible recovery,” Greenbaum noted.
Our request for comment was not returned.
Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagodol was the first American congregation established by immigrants from the Russian Empire, making it the oldest Russian Orthodox house of worship in the country. The historic Gothic Revival synagogue in which it resided was built in 1850 as a Baptist church and purchased by the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol congregation in 1885 for $45,000 (about $1.2 million today). The New York City Landmarks Commission found that “Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue has a special character, special historical and aesthetic interest, and value as part of the development, heritage and cultural characteristics of New York City.”