Eldridge Street Synagogue
Eldridge Street Synagogue
|Location||12 Eldridge Street, Manhattan, New York City|
|Architect||Peter and Francis William Herter|
|Architectural style||Moorish Revival|
|NRHP Reference #||80002687|
|Added to NRHP||March 28, 1980|
|Designated NHL||June 19, 1996|
|Designated NYCL||July 8, 1980|
The Eldridge Street Synagogue is one of the first synagogues erected in the United States by Eastern European Jews (Ashkenazis). One of the founders was Rabbi Eliahu the Blessed (Borok), formerly the Head Rabbi of St. Petersburg, Russia. It opened at 12 Eldridge Street in New York's Lower East Side in 1887 serving Congregation Kahal Adath Jeshurun. The building was designed by the architects Peter and Francis William Herter, (but unrelated to the Herter Brothers cabinet-makers). The brothers subsequently received many commissions in the Lower East Side and incorporated elements from the synagogue, such as the stars of David, in their buildings, mainly tenements. When completed, the synagogue was reviewed in the local press. Writers marveled at the imposing Moorish Revival building, with its 70-foot-high vaulted ceiling, magnificent stained-glass rose windows, elaborate brass fixtures and hand-stenciled walls.
Thousands participated in religious services in the building's heyday, from its opening through the 1920s. On High Holidays, police were stationed in the street to control the crowds. Rabbis of the congregation included the famed Rabbi Abraham Aharon Yudelovich, author of many works of Torah scholarship. Throughout these decades the Synagogue functioned not only as a house of worship but as an agency for acculturation, a place to welcome new Americans. Before the settlement houses were established and long afterward, poor people could come to be fed, secure a loan, learn about job and housing opportunities, and make arrangements to care for the sick and the dying. The Synagogue was, in this sense, a mutual aid society.
For fifty years, the Eldridge Street Synagogue flourished. Then membership began to dwindle as members moved to other areas, immigration quotas limited the number of new arrivals, and the Great Depression affected the congregants' fortunes. The exquisite main sanctuary was used less and less from the 1930s on. By the 1950s, with the rain leaking in and inner stairs unsound, the congregants cordoned off the sanctuary.
Without the resources needed to heat and maintain the sanctuary, they chose to worship downstairs in the more intimate house of study (Beth Midrash). The main sanctuary remained empty for twenty-five years, from approximately 1955 to 1980. In 1986 the non-sectarian, not-for-profit Eldridge Street Project was founded to restore the synagogue and renew it with educational and cultural programs. Paul P. E. Bookson, a former State Senator and Civil Court Justice, was instrumental in maintaining the Orthodox Religious services at the Eldridge Street Synagogue and its building restoration. The Eldridge Street Project completed the restoration in 2007 and opened to the public the Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue, reflecting its cultural and educational mission, within the Eldridge Street Synagogue building. The Orthodox Congregation Kahal Adath Jeshurun continues to meet for evening services in the Beth Midrash and daytime services in the main sanctuary. The Friday evening religious services begin 15 minutes after candlelighting. The Shabbos morning services start at 9:30 am, followed by a hot traditional kosher Kiddush.
Renovation and reopening
On December 2, 2007, after 20 years of renovation work that cost US$20 million, and that was overseen by the non-profit Museum at Eldridge Street the synagogue reopened to the public. It is now the Museum at Eldridge Street, offering informative tours that relate to American Jewish history, the history of the Lower East Side and immigration. Occasionally, Jewish religious events are celebrated there, though not in the former main sanctuary.
Restoration of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, was a team effort, combining dozens of varied interests and trades into a cohesive whole. The restoration team set an overarching goal, of authenticity: that the story of the building — and the nuances of human participation in its construction and use — should not be erased through the process of restoration.
The effort to return the sanctuary to its Victorian splendor, while maintaining the idiosyncrasies of the original aesthetic and preserving patina of age, included plaster consolidation and replication of ornamental plaster elements, over-paint removal, conservation, in-painting replication of stenciling, wood finishing and decorative painting including: faux-woodgraining, marbleizing, and gilding by skilled craftsmen.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Eldridge Street Synagogue". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. September 11, 2007.
- Newman, Renee; Schlanger, Maria; Waterman, Amy E. (1983). "National Historic Landmark Nomination: Eldridge Street Synagogue" (pdf). National Park Service.
- New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Postal, Matthew A. (ed. and text); Dolkart, Andrew S. (text). (2009) Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.) New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1, p.45
- Dunlap, David W. From Abyssinian to Zion. (2004) New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12543-7, pp. 60-61
- White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot with Leadon, Fran (2010). AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195383867., p.100
- Rothstein, Edward (December 1, 2007). "Return of a Long-Dormant Island of Grace". The New York Times. Retrieved July 31, 2010.
- Historic New York synagogue celebrates $20M restoration - Haaretz - Israel News
- Cole, Diane, "Joy on Eldridge Street", Preservation Magazine Volume 60, Number 2, March / April 2008, p. 56.
- Polland, Annie. Landmark of the Spirit; The Eldridge Street Synagogue,, Yale University Press, 2009
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