Fire at B'nai Adath Kol Beth Yisrael

Two blocks from us, we could see and smell it from our apartment.

November 14, 2017

Fire destroyed the B’nai Adath Kol Beth Yisrael synagogue this morning. Two blocks from us, we could see and smell it from our apartment.

The local newses reported a maintenance worker is responsible. They emphasized that he was 71 years old. NYPD charged him with reckless endangerment. They said this wasn’t arson. The man had been loosening tiles on the roof with a torch and accidentally set the building on fire. 100+ firefighters were called to the scene. Some Torah scrolls were retrieved, photos of which the NYPost prominently displays in their article.

Local newses did not mention that it’s a predominantly black congregation that’s been here since 1967. Nor that they hadn’t held a service in the sanctuary for 15 years. The sanctuary has been in total disrepair. The building, parts of which date to 1786, has long been falling apart. Wooden buttresses have been keeping the outer walls upright. Dedicated, the congregation still met in the basement. They used to serve meals to the less fortunate, but years ago ran out of funding for that.

Profiles on Rabbi Baruch Yehudah from 2014 said the congregation owed $73k in building-related fines to the city and the estimate for renovating the building was $4.5m. As B’nai Adath Kol Beth Yisrael practiced Black Judaism, they’d not found financial support, or even recognition, from Conservative, Reform, or Orthodox communities. They were isolated, running out of money, and then this.

An acquaintance of mine tends to say “watch it work” about situations like these. I will be surprised if the building is repaired or rebuilt and the congregation returns. Given the way much has gone in the neighborhood, I reckon its just a matter of time before a glassy luxury apartment building is built on the site.

Additional History:

More News:

Something Like an Epilogue:

This post also appeared on Brownstoner.

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