What Will Happen to Bed Stuy’s Black Jewish Congregation After Synagogue Fire?

Photo by Nate Boguszewski

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Bed Stuy resident Nate Boguszewski caught the fire at B’nai Adath Kol Beth Yisrael Tuesday morning. He had this to say about the sad situation:

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 news 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-plus firefighters were called to the scene. Some Torah scrolls were retrieved, photos of which the New York Post prominently displays in their article.

Local news 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. Dedicated, they still met in the basement. The sanctuary was 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. 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 $73,000 in building-related fines to the city and the estimate for renovating the building was $4.5 million. As B’nai Adath Kol Beth Yisrael is a Black Hebrew congregation, they’d not found financial support, or even recognition, from nearby Jewish 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 it’s just a matter of time before a glassy luxury apartment building rises on the site.

It is actually not the only black Israelite congregation in Bed Stuy. About 10 blocks away is Beth Shalom Hebrew Congregation at 730 Willoughby Avenue. Brownstoner columnist Suzanne Spellen, aka Montrose Morris, wrote about it in a Building of the Day in 2013.

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