We mourn the loss of Al Orensanz who passed away on July 23, 2016. He was a dear personal friend and a man of honor and integrity who has left the Lower East Side with an enduring legacy, the Angel Orensanz Foundation Center for the Arts. Al‘s brother, Angel Orensanz, an internationally renowned Spanish painter and sculptor, bought an old, boarded up, decaying synagogue at 172 Norfolk Street in 1986 to use for studio space. Designed in 1849 by renowned architect Alexander Saeltzer, the building opened in 1850 as Anshe Chesed (People of Kindness) and was occupied by a series of Orthodox synagogues. Abandoned in 1974, it was acquired by a series of developers and then purchased by the city. It stands as the oldest surviving structure in the city built specifically as a synagogue and was designated a NYC landmark in 1987.
Angel Orensanz and his brother Al, a Ph.D. sociologist and published author, worked for years and spent their own money to transform the dilapidated synagogue into the Angel Orensanz Foundation Center for the Arts. Al Orensanz functioned as the on-site manager of the cultural center with the assistance of Maria Neri. They utilized the former sanctuary for theatrical performances, gallery shows, film festivals, special events, photo shoots and weddings (film and TV stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick were married here). Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, poet Maya Angelou, playwright Arthur Miller, actor Tyne Daly, composer Philip Glass and actor/singer Mandy Patinkin have appeared there to overflowing audiences. Angel Orensanz, who creates many of his designs in an area on the second balcony, has filled the space with temporary conceptual stagings that were videotaped and later screened abroad. He will take over operation of the center and carry on his brother’s legacy.