Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue
Painting in the streets had become more difficult as I entered my mid- eighties, and with 87 large canvases of NY having been completed, it was time to stop doing any more. But then my husband, Eric and I, saw an old tenement on Grand St. in the Lower East Side, which was to be torn down in an area slated to be "gentrified".
We went to look at it, and learned its history, and drove away. On the trip home, Eric turned to me and said that he could tell how badly I wanted to paint it, and that he would not only help me with the carrying etc., but would do the hours of driving............and so he did........
When we sat down on the Grand St. sidewalk, suddenly I realized that all the discomfort disappeared, and the joy came rushing back. Why did I wait so long to do what I loved?
Somewhere within the middle of the first month, an angry man pushing a walker, stopped in front of us and began to shout.
"How can you sit there and paint a common street when just around the corner they want to tear my synagogue down! That's what you should paint, that's what needs to be remembered!"
He grabbed a piece of paper from my equipment bag, and with a magic marker he drew arches, a building outline, a Star of David and windows, steps, and at the bottom he printed
RABBI EPHRAIM. OSHRY. BETH MIDRASH HAGADOL
Then he wrote " look at "you tube" Internet ....I'm an artist Nathan Hilu"
Furious with us and muttering angry words, he left.
Eric felt that we should at least look at the temple and, tired as we were, after we packed up on that day, we walked to Norfolk St., and there it stood.......and we both knew that there was no choice, we needed to record it.
The Grand St painting however, forced me to meet a real deadline. At any day destruction followed by construction could happen and force me to leave the site. There was no way to take time away from that. But Eric returned and took photos of the synagogue, and I would often steal an hour away from Grand St. and sit in front of it and sketch. I recorded whatever I could with pencil and paper. This deserted and neglected building had so many stories to tell, and I needed to understand them In order to do justice to what this building had given to the people who once worshipped there. I felt that when it would be torn down I would at least have that. Winter came and I worked at home, coming back often to sketch the parts I needed to know better. By sitting warmly dressed in the car I was able to keep working. I finished the painting by winter's end, and by then the Grand St. painting was also nearly done.
The oil on canvas picturing Beth Hamedrash Hagadol was completed during the year 2014. On May of 2017, I received call from Paul Ratnofsky, a dear friend we had made during the Grand St painting, telling us that the temple was on fire. We turned on the news and there was the building we had grown so deeply attached to, in wild flames.
Only one consolation exists, even though the sadness is deep. The painting will prove that Beth Hamedrash Hagadol once did exist. I wish that I could meet the man who led us there and thank him.