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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Shul Demolition

There has been much coverage in local news sources of the roof collapse and subsequent full demolition of a synagogue on the Lower East Side. The NY Times ran a piece today on how unhappy preservationists are about the fact that the building had fallen in to such disrepair that its roof caved in:
The demolition of a 150-year-old synagogue on the Lower East Side is generating widespread criticism among preservationists, who say that one of the city's historic religious buildings has been lost because too little was done to save it.
...City officials said the demolition was legal. The synagogue's roof collapsed in late January, and permits were issued on Wednesday by the Department of Buildings to take down what remained of the synagogue because it posed a safety hazard.

But in the weeks since the roof collapsed, apparently ensuring the building's demolition, preservationists have recounted a litany of miscues and failed efforts to help shore up the sagging building, which flourished during the waves of 19th-century Jewish immigration but whose congregation and finances have dwindled in recent years.
This post from Gothamist also shows how the demolition has captured the interest of so many locals:
Tragedy on Rivington Street
Everyone in LES is still pretty stunned by the demolition of the Rivington Street temple that took place last week. We walked by over the weekend, and tons of people were still gathering on the sidewalk, staring into the ruined shell of a building that was once described as "Carnegie Hall for Cantors." Everyone had their cameras out-- snapping pictures of the remaining back wall, which still had the stained glass and undamaged bema.
The shul's demise has even gained enough local interest to spawn its own conspiracy theories:
We've heard lots of conspiracy theories that the congregation allowed the roof to deteriorate in order that it would collapse and give them an excuse to sell the building. Let's hope that's not true.
One would certainly hope.

What I find so interesting is the obvious pain the shul's destruction is causing for its neighborhood - and not necessarily solely from the Orthodox sector. Another point that occured to me is that I vividly remember all the anger and despair that was expressed in the blog world regarding the destruction of the shuls in Gush Katif after the disengagement. I admit freely that there is a distinction here, namely that those shuls were deliberately destroyed simply for the sake of their destruction, and this shul fell into disrepair due to neglect. Still and all, I would have expected to see some distress expressed somewhere in the blogosphere by those who were so pained last summer by the destruction of shuls 6,000 miles away. Stripped of all its political significance, is the destruction of a shul an equally terrible event no matter where and when it occurs? Shouldn't it be?


Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

It's hard to see the destruction of these shuls, knowing what also happened in Europe in the years leading up to, and during WWII.

I find that your post, at this exact time, has quite an impact on me because tomorrow morning, the demolition of the old red shul building will commence. True, the purpose of this demolition is to pave the way for a new shul that will better support its congregation and community, but nonetheless, the building was used for many years and many memories live within it.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

Here is another story about a shul that was almost lost -- and the organization that wanted to destroy it was an Orthodox organization!


Fortunately, it has a happy ending.

More sadly, I see many former shuls in the Bronx. Many are now Christian Churches. The original home of the congregation that is now the Hebrew Institue of Riverdale is now a burned out shell. The Bronx Museum of the Arts was originally a Young Israel shul.

http://www.bronxsynagogues.org has photos and a lot of history. Some of those abandoned shuls are still in Jewish hands and are in reasonable condition, waiting for a group of Jewish pioneers -- many in good neighborhoods with inexpensive (by NY standards) housing nearby.

11:58 AM  
Blogger rebba shlita said...

good post.
as charlie h. pointed out the old shuls becoming churches. just take a walk in down town brooklyn at these huge churches. these churches used to be shuls it just pains you to see this.
this also brings to light what ortho pointed out what the reaction in gaza was. there is a shul in flatbush that the rabbi is now wanting to sell, to a church or a developer, this same guy thought the gaza shuls were a great tragedy, yet now he is doing the exact same thing.
it is very sad, i think we take for granted what a shul represents, it shows with the talking and the way we act in them.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stories like this make me so sad... and I hope it isn't true that the congregation allowed it to fall into neglect on purpose.

I'm also still really upset that the only synagogue in Tajikistan was just razed by the government, leaving the community with nothing (the mikvah was part of it, too) - and there has been no attention paid to it at all. It's just awful.

4:49 PM  
Blogger westbankmama said...

There is a huge difference between a shul being sold because there are no Jews davening in it and the destruction of the shuls in Gush Katif, which were thriving Jewish communities. As the article points out about the instance in the Lower East Side, the shul's roof collapsed first - and then they had to demolish the rest because it was a safety hazard.

There is a difference between collapse from decay and disuse, and the willfull destruction of a "healthy" synagogue.

5:18 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

There is a difference between collapse from decay and disuse, and the willfull destruction of a "healthy" synagogue.

Agreed, WBM, which is why I said almost exactly the same thing as you in my post:
"I admit freely that there is a distinction here, namely that those shuls were deliberately destroyed simply for the sake of their destruction, and this shul fell into disrepair due to neglect."

8:15 AM  
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