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Manhattan, NY - Troubled Landmark Synagogue Sustains Massive Damage In Suspicious Fire

Published on: May 14, 2017 09:36 PM
Last updated on: May 15, 2017 08:41 AM
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Manhattan, NY -  A 3 alarm fire that ripped through a vacant 132 year old Lower East Side synagogue is under control, with substantial damage sustained at the building whose future has been uncertain for the last ten years.

Witnesses said that the fire at Beth Medrash Hagadol, located at 60-64 Norfolk Street, broke out at approximately 7 PM and FDNY officials on scene said that the fire appeared to be suspicious in nature.

Robin Stucker, who lives across the street from the synagogue said that she sees students from nearby Seward Park High School scaling the fence and going into the synagogue on a daily basis.  According to Stucker, the teens started a small fire in the synagogue just days ago.

“Every day,” Stucker told VIN News. “There are kids going in there every day.”

According to the Bowery Boogie blog (http://bit.ly/2rfEw4f), one eyewitness reported hearing a loud explosion and then seeing a huge plume of smoke rising from the Gothic Revival style building.

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The historic synagogue, which was granted landmark status in 1967, sustained massive damage during the fire.

Both the roof and the windows of the synagogue were destroyed by the time the fire was brought under control at approximately 8:30 PM. Within half an hour, the facade of the building began to collapse as well as firefighters continued to douse the building with water.

The building that housed Beth Medrash Hagadol was originally built as a Baptist church in 1852, but was bought by the congregation in 1885 for $45,000, with Rabbi Jacob Joseph, the only person ever to hold the title “Chief Rabbi of New York City,” leading the synagogue from 1888 to 1902. 

The 1,200 seat synagogue closed in 2007 as its membership dwindled and the facility began falling into disrepair. 

The fate of Beth Medrash Hagadol, located in the midst of a hot real estate market, has been extremely uncertain since that time. 

Plans launched in 2008 by the Lower East Side Conservancy for a $4.5 million renovation which would have turned the site into a visitors center, as reported by the New York Sun (http://bit.ly/2rgp9JD ), failed to materialize. 

Four years later, the synagogue’s rabbi, Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum, attempted to have the Landmarks Preservation Commission reverse the building’s landmark status in order to have condominiums built on the 4,600 square foot site, reported The Real Deal (http://bit.ly/2qH0d14).

The plans for a new mixed use residential development as large as 45,000 square feet on the site, included a small synagogue and a museum highlighting the historic role the synagogue played in the community.

Rabbi Greenbaum withdrew his request for the status change in 2013 according to Curbed NY (http://bit.ly/2pzVAFC).  The most recent plans for Beth Medrash Hagadol remain unknown at this time.

FDNY officials said that no injuries were reported and that the fire is under investigation.

(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)
(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)
(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)
(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)
A man walks in front of firetrucks next to the burned Beth Hamedrash synagogue in New York City, U.S., May 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney -A man walks in front of firetrucks next to the burned Beth Hamedrash synagogue in New York City, U.S., May 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney -
(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)
(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)
(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)(Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)


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Read Comments (3)  —  Post Yours »

1

 May 14, 2017 at 11:54 PM grandbear Says:

So goes another landmark shool in the lower east side .I remember the constant minyanim for mincha all afternoon . Norfolk st. had 3 sofrim selling torahs and other things on that block and a well known kosher restaurant The jewish men would come to davin there from all the stores and factories in the neighborhood. soon there will be just memories of a famed past of the teeming east side.

2

 May 15, 2017 at 10:06 AM Anonymous Says:

Nebech, looks like Kristalnacht.

3

 May 15, 2017 at 01:51 PM Respect Says:

There were no NYC firefighters putting out the blazes of Kristalnacht.
Constantly invoking historical reference to the Holocaust cheapens the memory of what was lost rather than make you more frum.

4

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