Urgent repairs just began at the Stanton Street Shul, part of a larger plan to protect one of the last remaining active synagogues on the Lower East Side.
The announcement was made yesterday by the leadership of the modern Orthodox congregation at 180 Stanton St. The project includes masonry repair and waterproofing. Crews are re-coating the roof, repairing brickwork in the back of the 103-year-old building and working on the interior of the rear wall.
According to a press release, “The current repairs are the first step in a larger renovation and restoration project that the congregation plans to undertake in order to ensure the longevity of its building, both as a living piece of a Lower East Side history whose landmarks are rapidly disappearing, and as a home for its vibrant and growing worship community.”
The renovation project is being paid for with several grants from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, as well as from private donations. The synagogue received a $30,000 challenge grant from the conservancy’s Jewish Heritage Fund. Historic architect Zach Rice is supervising the work, with Silman Associates as structural engineers and West New York Restoration as general contractor. The project is expected to extend through the summer and will be completed before the Jewish High Holidays begin in the fall.
Jeff Katz, who serves on the board of directors as treasurer, told us the next step will be completing a master plan. The objective, he said, is to address all of the building’s needs, including plumbing, electrical, structural and cosmetic issues, “ensuring the Stanton Street Shul’s preservation as a historic synagogue, one of only two tenement synagogues on the Lower East Side.”
The historically poor congregation struggled to care for the 1913 building over the last several decades. But the synagogue, which is known as an unusually welcoming and intimate house of worship, has seen its membership grow in recent years. That trend has continued under the leadership of Rabbi Aviad Bodner, who has been at the Stanton Street Shul since 2014. The congregation is now in a better position to undertake a comprehensive renovation, which will ultimately cost several million dollars. The building is listed on the national and state registers of historic places but is not a city landmark.
The initial work was approved many months ago, but the recent destructive fire at another Lower East Side synagogue, Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, has added urgency to Stanton Street’s preservation efforts. Katz said it is imperative that, “we remain (in the neighborhood), given that other synagogues have ceased to exist.”
While a master plan will determine the scope of the larger project, Katz estimated the renovation would cost close to $5 million. The synagogue will likely be eligible for more grants from the Landmarks Conservancy, as well as from other sources. Local fundraising will also be undertaken, both within the congregation and in the larger Lower East Side community. Anyone wishing to help the shul, said Katz, can make a donation and/or participate in services at what he called, “one of the most welcoming shuls in the city.”
In the weeks since the fire at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, more than a few people have told us they wish they’d stepped forward to help ensure the synagogue’s survival. It’s too late for the Norfolk Street landmark, which is headed for almost certain demolition. In the aftermath of the fire, said Katz, “It’s a time for activism, and not a time to stand on the sidelines.”