Thursday, December 31, 2009

Restoring Our Synagogue

While Rabbi Kret was at the shul, it seemed that the physical structure of the building was somehow held together by his Torah and his menschlikhkeit. If it weren't for him, we were sure that our old building would give in to the forces of entropy. Accordingly, when he retired in November, 1997, we decided that we could no longer keep the building together on faith (or mostly on faith), and began a slow campaign to repair and restore our beautiful, historic structure.Our treasurer, Orrin, put on a new roof in order to keep the building dry inside (a critical step). Then we had the asbestos in the basement abated. Afterward, a new basement floor, and then new restrooms were installed. This was a major step forward. The sinks in the restrooms were only a couple of feet off the floor, as if they were designed for children. It turned out that when the old restrooms were taken out, water seepage had caused the original floor, and some of the fixtures, to sink. So another floor was built on top! There old restrooms were horrible in many ways but they had two great features. First, the urinals were four and a half feet tall. Clearly, there is something about the Eastern European immigrant ancestors that we have underrated. Secondly, the restroom stalls had these wonderful, double-hinged, carved, saloon doors. Fortunately, I was able to rescue them and I hope one day to install them together with new wooden stalls. Soon after this (I think) we replaced the back wall separating our property from our neighor's. In 2001 were were awarded the grant from the New York Landmarks Conservancy which enabled us to restore the stained glass windows in the front of the building, put a new drain on the roof, install new front doors and rebuild the eastern parapet. The windows were particularly challenging because there was only a small amount of the original glass in the smaller lunette or transom window. Looking at a 1939-1940 tax photo and also photos from dinner journals (none of which were in color) we made some good guesses about what the window looked like. We are thrilled with the way they came out. At the same time, we discovered that the drainpipe underneath the building was rusted out, so we replaced it and we used the contractors to sister in new beams under the bimah, since the wood in this area had rotted. In December 2007, our old oil boiler, which was installed, at the latest, in 1937, had finally given up the ghost. In January 2008, we installed a new gas boiler, a change from tradition, but one which will be hopefully cleaner, cheaper, and easier to maintain. In fall 2009, we were awarded two small grants from the New York Landmarks Conservancy to do structural work on the roof, restore the skylights and rebuild the parapets. We have also applied for a bigger grant from State for the same purpose. We are now waiting to hear what the outcome will be. After we restore the roof, we hope to upgrade our electrical system, and when that's done, we hope to restore the plaster walls and recreate the intricate floral that once enlivened the interior of the building. This is assuming that we can raise the money. Our goal is to restore the building so that it will be well-cared for 1920s synagogue that will be a gift for us and for future generations. If we can achieve this goal, then it is because Rabbi Kret's spirit, in some way, continues to inhabit our little gem of a synagogue.

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