Centennial Celebration
Blaze Rips Through Historic Synagogue on Lower East Side

NY Daily News - May 15, 2017

by JOHN ANNESE

A massive fire tore through a vacant, landmarked synagogue on the Lower East Side on Sunday night.

Orange flames and thick smoke billowed from front of Beth Hamedrash Hagodol synagogue — a 167-year-old building on Norfolk St. near Essex St.

The blaze, which started at 7 p.m., quickly spread to three alarms, as onlookers watched the flames from blocks away.

It’s not yet clear if anyone was inside the building when the fire started.

The crumbling synagogue’s fate has been the subject of debate over the years.

In December 2012, the congregation’s leadership filed a “hardship application” with the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to tear the building down, as renovations would cost $3 million. The plan was to tear replace the structure with condominiums, with a new synagogue on the ground floor.

Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum, who led the congregation, later pulled back from that plan after meeting with members of the community, according to a 2014 article in The Wall Street Journal.

Built in 1850 as the Norfolk Street Baptist Church, the Gothic Revival-style building became a synagogue in 1885, and is considered to be the home of the nation’s oldest Russian Orthodox Jewish Congregation, according to the 2012 hardship application.

A storm tore out its central Gothic tripartite window in 1997, and a 2001 fire caused more damage. The synagogue closed in 2007.