Lenora Fay Garfinkel, 90, Architect for Orthodox Jewish Communities, Dies


Lenora attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, commuting from the Bronx, and then spent a year at Hunter College before she was allowed to take the Cooper Union exam on a Sunday. A family friend, a judge, had advised her that the test’s Saturday-only format amounted to religious discrimination, and told her to push the issue. She did, with good results.

“I never got the picture that she was breaking the glass ceiling because she wanted to break the glass ceiling,” her grandson Ariel Dahan, who lived with her in her later years, said. “She just wanted to be an architect, so this is what she did.”

She met a pharmacy student named Samuel Garfinkel, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the two married, twice — once in the Bronx, once in Winnipeg.

After graduating from Cooper Union in 1952, Ms. Garfinkel worked for another architect, then branched out on her own. The family moved to Spring Valley, in Rockland County, in 1958, and later to Monsey, to a house she had designed on spec for a builder.

Both areas had large Orthodox populations with specific needs: for synagogues or wedding halls or ritual baths — mikvahs — all regulated in their design by Jewish law. Ms. Garfinkel navigated these arcana with rabbis, and explained them to community zoning boards.

A simple handrail in a school hallway had to meet local building codes, fire codes and the Americans With Disabilities Act as well as Jewish law.

“It’s a lot of laws,” said Rabbi Yaakov Bender of Far Rockaway, Queens, whose home she redesigned.

She often worked until the wee hours of the morning, Mr. Dahan said. “Three o’clock was ice cream o’clock,” he said.

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