Local Artist Donates Restored Window to Shul in Memory of Ralph Feldman

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Rabbi Bodner with Patti Kelly. Photos by Elissa Sampson.

Jews across the Lower East Side are busy preparing for the start of Passover this evening. But at the Stanton Street Shul yesterday morning, there was another meaningful project in the works. Rabbi Aviad Bodner was receiving a special gift in memory of Ralph Feldman, a well-known member of the community – a local legend – who died in February.

Local artist Patti Kelly donated a beautiful stained glass Star of David window that was rescued decades ago from a former synagogue, Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Anshe Ungarn, on East 7th Street. Feldman, a former New York City fire marshal and building owner, attended services at the Stanton Street Shul in recent years.

In an interview yesterday, Kelly said Feldman used to stop by her 8th Street studio to watch her restore the window, a painstaking process that spanned several years. “He got the biggest kick (out of the fact that) this Irish Catholic girl was doing the restoration” of a Jewish artifact,” she said. After Feldman’s memorial service in February, which was led by Rabbi Bodner, Kelly decided it would only be fitting to offer the window to the Stanton Street Shul.

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The rabbi said the piece will become a prominent feature in the continuing restoration of the synagogue building. In the next several months, he explained, a new campaign will be launched to raise the necessary funds for the project. When those plans start to take shape, it will be decided exactly where the stained glass window will go. It hung over the alter of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Anshe Ungarn, which was long ago converted to a private residence.

The photos you see here were taken by Elissa Sampson, a longtime friend of Ralph Feldman. She recalled the day in 1982 in which he “literally prevented the Eighth Street Shul (located next door to his home) from burning down.” The experience turned the non-observant Jew into a shul-goer. In 1998, Feldman and local activist Clayton Patterson worked to save the synagogue from disrepair, but the congregation ending up selling the building anyway. That’s when Feldman started going to Stanton Street.

Kelly said Feldman, who bought and fixed up dozens of dilapidated buildings throughout the neighborhood, had a unique appreciation for his new shul, one of the last tenement synagogues remaining on the Lower East Side.  Over the years, she rebuilt the window frame and designed the centerpiece element, which depicts the Ten Commandments. “My job,” she said, “is to hold on to the original integrity of the piece and to honor the original work.”  Donating the piece, Kelly told us, “makes me feel good. It was the best way I could think of to honor our friendship.”

The relationship between Feldman and Kelly was a special one. Baruch Herzfeld, a close friend of Feldman, said they were kindred spirits — both tough New York characters who embodied all of the best characteristics of the Lower East Side’s artist community.  Speaking of Kelly, Elissa Sampson added, “She is really giving something whose value is quite precious. It goes beyond the extraordinary. Patti deeply wants to inspire Ralph’s friends and family to also memorialize him in a way that gives back to community.”

1 comment to Local Artist Donates Restored Window to Shul in Memory of Ralph Feldman

  • This comment is from Clayton Patterson:

    What a wonderful report. With all the loses the LES has suffered
    through during these brutal years of gentrification this story is
    bringing some much needed positive life and light back to the LES.

    When I was helping Ralph try and save the 8th street shul, Ralph was
    going to the minyans at Stanton street. After the shul was destroyed
    by gentrification, Ralph continued to go to Stanton Street. He was
    very comfortable with the elderly Rabbi Singer. I had accompanied
    Ralph to many early AM and afternoon minyans. The elderly Rabbi
    Singer was an angel to the poor and elderly men who prayed there.

    It was a sad day in LES Jewish Orthodox history when 8th street was
    sold. Yes the place was filled with misfits, eccentrics, odd balls
    who never fit in anywhere else in the Orthodox world, but they found a
    sanctuary on 8th Street.

    Since I am not Jewish, and since I was deeply involved in the place, I
    needed to know if a shul filled with such eccentric characters could
    be kosher. So I asked my old and good friend Lionel Ziprin what he
    thought.

    Lionel was born and raised on the LES. Lionel’s grandfather was the
    ultra-orthodox Rabbi Nuftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, and his family
    linage goes back all the way to the creation of the kabbalah. His
    grandfather did liner notes for the 15th century Sefer Raziel
    HaMalakh. Rabbi Abulafia was involved in first the Home of the Sages,
    and then the House of the Sages on East Broadway. Lionel had spent a
    large part of his adult life working and studying at the House of the
    Sages. The Rabbis at the House of the Sages, mostly bused in from
    Williamsburg, mentioned Lionel as Rabbi Ziprin. (there is a history
    of Lionel in the LES Jewish People’s History advertised in this
    publication- as well another part of his life in American Magus Harry
    Smith: A Modern Alchemist ed by Paola Igliori)

    Lionel told me it was not about the character of the person that is
    the determining factor. What is important is if the people follow all
    the rules, laws, and practices associated with kosher. A crazy place
    yes- from what I could discover the place was kosher. Besides being a
    kosher safe haven for those who had problems fitting in anywhere else
    in the Orthodox world, the men who lived in the tenement shul were the
    backbone supporters of Rabbi Ackerman’s, Rabbi Singer of Stanton
    Street, Rabbi Spiegel on Rivington Street, and Eldridge street
    minyans. The little money made from the sale of the 8th Street Shul
    did much to diminish and dim the lights in the Orthodox LES. It is
    ironic, but now years later those who one would expect to help save a
    shul and did not, are getting arrested for crimes related to the
    taking of money from the poor and from the trust of the people who
    supported them.

    In, 1982, I was in the synagogue Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Anshe Ungarn,
    on East 7th. The place was a complete wreak. The roof was wide open,
    the balcony was falling down, there was little to save. The deal that
    was made when the building was sold was the front of the building must
    remain intact preserved in it’s original condition. The building has
    been restored.

    Dominique Camacho lived in the penthouse apartment of the beautifully
    reconstructed building. She was an active and original member of
    EVCC, East Village Community Coalition. The EVCC was largely
    responsible for getting PS 64, the old CHARAS building landmark
    status. Landmark status preserved a classic LES building and meant
    another zone busting structure could not replace the building that was
    there. EVCC is very active in helping end the construction of zone
    busting over sized luxury buildings.

    I am a little overwhelmed that Patti Kelly saved and restored the
    leaded glass window from the synagogue. One of the many points of
    interest that is unique about Patti is she is an Irish Catholic and
    not Jewish. In terms of preserving the LES, a critical point must be
    made, Patti, so far, thankfully has found a way to keep her business
    alive on the LES. She has been chased from place to place. It is
    obvious she is a good solid community person and needs to be
    supported. Her work is high quality, fairly priced, and she is one of
    us- a die hard LES’er. I hope people take note of this fact- Patti
    also needs work to survive- and it has become a very difficult
    struggle for most of us to remain here. The shadow of death is
    lingering around many buildings, businesses and neighbors. Send Patti
    some business.