Photo Credit: DS Levi
Investigators on the scene working to find out why Beth Hamedrash HaGadol, the oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in New York, was struck by a 3-alarm fire that badly damaged the historic landmark site.

Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum says he wasn’t notified by fire marshals when they found out that his 167-year-old synagogue was burning.

Beth Hamedrash HaGadol was the oldest Eastern European Congregation founded in New York. The building was built in 1850, originally as a Baptist church, but then sold to a Jewish congregation 35 years later.

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In 2007, the synagogue closed, its building badly deteriorated, with congregation members recently trying to raise the necessary funds to restore the building.

It’s not yet clear what caused the three-alarm blaze.

“They didn’t call me,” he told JewishPress.com, “I got a call from the neighbor, not the fire marshals. I got here before they called.”

Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum is determined to continue to run at least "somewhat of a congregation" at Beth Hamedrash HaGadol's historic landmark synagogue building.
Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum is determined to continue to run at least “somewhat of a congregation” at Beth Hamedrash HaGadol’s historic landmark synagogue building.

Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives were at the scene to join the investigation on Monday, because, “Somehow this fire started in a building that isn’t being used,” explained FDNY Manhattan Borough Commander Roger Sakowich.

The building, an historic landmark site, has been empty for 10 years, NYPD spokesperson Detective Brown told JewishPress.com.

Rabbi Greenbaum added that “in recent times there have been issues with teenage kids going in and out, climbing over. We had barbed wire around the fence and on top of the fence obviously they climbed over.” He did not accuse any of the teens of having set the fire, however.

The rabbi, meanwhile, is emphatic that the Jewish community intends to stay on, and at least to “run somewhat of a congregation” despite the fact that the building was in bad shape even before the fire managed to gut it.

Additional reporting was contributed by DS Levi.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.