More than two weeks after the devastating fire at Beth Hamdrash Hagadol, the historic Norfolk Street synagogue, engineers are still trying to determine whether any part of the 167-year-old building can be saved.
We spoke with Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum late last week, who said it will likely be a few more days before they have any solid answers. As you may have noticed, construction fencing went up around the perimeter some time ago and a shed for debris was moved into position behind the synagogue. The Department of Buildings’ (DOB) forensic engineering unit will be working o determine if the remaining structure is secure, or whether walls are in danger of collapsing. Howard L. Zimmerman Architects has filed applications for the removal of debris, according to the DOB’s online database.
Greenbaum said he’s determined to move ahead in partnership with the Chinese American Planning Council (CPC) for a new structure behind the current nursing home building. That site is owned by the CPC. Before the May 14 fire, the two organizations were planning to restore the synagogue building as part of the new development, creating a synagogue space in the basement of the landmark-protected building. Greenbaum said he still wants to re-establish Beth Hamedrash Hagadol as a functioning congregation on the Lower East Side.
In related news, a 14-year-old boy accused of setting the fire is expected to be back in family court tomorrow. According to a spokesperson with the NYC Law Department, he’ll be informed as to whether a case will be filed against him. If that occurs, the boy will be required to appear before a judge. He was arrested May 16 and later released into the custody of his mother, a Lower East Side resident.