This article was first published in The Times of Israel.
NEW YORK — Generally speaking, when someone talks about the shul they grew up in, they are referring to the synagogue they regularly attended when they were young. When Casimir Nozkowski speaks of the shul he grew up in, he means it absolutely literally.
Nozkowski’s boyhood bedroom was in the U-shaped women’s balcony of an old synagogue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In 1967, a decade before he was born, his parents, artists Thomas Nozkowski and Joyce Robins, moved into the building at 70 Hester Street, between Orchard andR Allen. They turned what was once the original home of the First Roumanian-American Congregation into a two-floor artists’ loft apartment/studio, decorating the walls, ceilings and floors with their paintings and sculptures.
“Art is their religion,” Nozkowski tells The Times of Israel about his Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, who met as students at Cooper Union, and ended up living for 45 years in a synagogue that is believed to have been built in or around 1860.
After the congregation abandoned the building for a larger one at 89 Rivington Street (which was destroyed more than a century later when its roof collapsed in 2006) and before the couple moved in, it was apparently used as an illegal whiskey still during Prohibition, and later as a plastic raincoat and shower curtain factory.
Now, 70 Hester Street is about to assume yet another identity — an art gallery and café. Renovations are underway and expected to be completed by some time in December.
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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.
Tags: 70 Hester Street, Carlo Enzo Frugiuele, Casimir Nozkowski, First Roumanian-American Congregation, gentrification, Joyce Robins, Lower East Side, New York, shul, Synagogues, Thomas Nozkowski, Urban Office Architecture