Stanton Street Synagogue
Stanton Street Synagogue
|Location||180 Stanton Street, New York, New York|
|Architect||Louis A. Sheinart|
|NRHP Reference #||02001116|
|Added to NRHP||October 10, 2002|
Stanton Street Synagogue, also known as Stanton Street Shul and Congregation Bnai Jacob Anshei Brzezan (Yiddish: קאנגרעגיישאן בני יעקב אנשי ברזעזאן, "Congregation Sons of Jacob, People of Brzezan"), is a historic synagogue located at 180 Stanton Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. It was constructed in 1913 by a landsmanshaft from the town of Brzeżany in southeast Galicia. One of the few surviving tenement-style synagogues, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. That same year, the synagogue's congregants went to court over an attempt by its rabbi and board members to sell the aging structure to an organization run by a Jesuit priest. The resultant settlement and media attention led to a resurgence in interest in the synagogue. In 2012 its membership stands at about 100 congregants, representing a wide, intergenerational mix. The Stanton Street Synagogue was founded as a traditional, or Orthodox, house of worship and remains so until today.
Jewish immigrants from the Galician town of Brzeżany organized Congregation Bnai Jacob Anshei Brzezan as a mutual aid society in 1894. They built their synagogue on Stanton Street in 1913. The tenement-style synagogue incorporated two existing structures dating to the 1840s, a three-story wood-frame front house and a brick back house, at a cost of $10,000.
A decline in the Jewish population of the Lower East Side beginning in the 1930s and accelerating after World War II led to a decline in synagogue membership. In 1952 the synagogue merged with Bnai Joseph Dugel Macheneh Ephraim, founded by Polish-Jewish immigrants from Rymanów and Błażowa.
In 1964 the congregation appointed Rabbi Joseph Singer, the Pilzner Rav, as its spiritual leader. Singer, a native of Pilzno, Poland, who had fled the Nazis in 1939 and settled on the Lower East Side, served in this capacity until 2002, mostly without pay. Singer, who was also an employee of the United Jewish Council of the East Side, was a tireless advocate for the poor elderly of the neighborhood.
Under Singer's leadership, the synagogue served as a prayer and meeting place for immigrants and working poor of the Lower East Side, most of them elderly, such as "former sanitation workers, bakers, rag vendors in their seventies and eighties". By 2000, most of the membership had died or moved away, and it was often difficult to gather a minyan (ten-man quorum) for prayer services. In June 2000, Singer and the synagogue board members arranged to sell the rundown building to the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped, founded and run by a Jesuit priest, for $1.2 million, a reflection of the rising cost of housing in the neighborhood. Singer did not tell his congregants about the sale until March 2001, when he urged them to merge with a nearby congregation. He was met with fierce resistance. The congregants took the matter to a beis din (rabbinical court), which ruled that the sale could go through and part of the proceeds be used to pay Singer's pension. The congregants then took the case to the New York State Supreme Court. On October 29, 2002, the parties settled with an agreement under which Singer would not try to sell the building and the congregants would not demand a financial accounting of the synagogue's revenues.
This episode fueled new interest in the aging synagogue and an influx of younger members to its ranks. New synagogue officers were appointed and grants were sought for repairs. By 2004 membership had topped 100, comprising "an intergenerational mix of Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivors, middle-aged empty-nesters and twenty- and thirty-something couples and families". In 2012 the majority of members were under the age of 35.
In 2002 the synagogue named Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld as part-time rabbi. He was succeeded in 2006 by Rabbi Yossi Pollak, a student of Open Orthodoxy advocate Rabbi Avi Weiss. In mid-2008, Rabbi Josh Yuter succeeded Pollak. In addition to his rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, Yuter has a B.A. in computer science and an M.A. in Talmudic studies from Yeshiva University, and an M.A. in social sciences from the University of Chicago. He previously worked as an applications developer for JPMorgan Chase and Information Builders. Yuter has applied his computer programming background to his rabbinic duties, posting his synagogue on Foursquare, a social networking site, in 2011 and maintaining a Twitter feed and personal blog called Yutopia. In March 2014 Yuter announced that he would be stepping down as rabbi and moving to Israel. In November 2014, Rabbi Aviad Bodner succeeded Yuter. Bodner, who received his rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, graduated from Bar-Ilan University and worked as a corporate lawyer in Tel Aviv before joining Stanton.
Stanton Street Synagogue is one of the last surviving examples of tenement-style synagogue architecture on the Lower East Side. The three-story building, constructed of stone and brick, is situated on a standard 20 feet (6.1 m) by 100 feet (30 m) tenement lot.
Its neoclassical facade has a tripartite design with a central entrance. Four cast-stone pilasters, each two stories high, support an entablature and a pediment upon which the Yiddish name of the synagogue and its date of construction are engraved. The Star of David appears in four places: in an oculus over the main entrance; in a large, circular, stained-glass window over the pediment; engraved onto a stone tablet on the parapet; and atop the stylized wrought-iron gate in front of the building. While the original Star of David design is still visible in the circular windows, most of the original colored glass has broken or fallen out.
Behind the front entrance are stairs leading down to the main sanctuary and Kiddush hall. A wooden bimah (reader's platform) stands in the center of the sanctuary; the wooden Ark is placed to the north. The sanctuary has a tin ceiling and two skylight domes. The women's gallery, situated on two sides of the sanctuary, is no longer in use. Instead of pews, congregants sit in wood and cast-iron school desk-chairs produced in the early 1900s.
Wall paintings around the main sanctuary depict the Zodiac signs for the twelve Hebrew months. Zodiac motifs were once common in synagogues on the Lower East Side, but with the demolition of most of these historic buildings, they are only seen at the Stanton Street Synagogue and the Bialystoker Synagogue. The zodiac paintings are framed by marble pillars, which are in fact trompe l'oeil art. The wall around the Ark is decorated with folk art paintings of the Tower of David and Rachel's Tomb.
While the synagogue is now considered viable, its aging structure is in continuous need of repair. The roof and fire escape were renovated by Li/Saltzman Architects in 2006–2007, and the main sanctuary was renovated by architect Ilan Ohayon in 2007.
In keeping with its open door approach, welcoming lively Jewish culture of all kinds, the synagogue schedules frequent musical performances and events. These include "traditional Jewish music...Jewish rock 'n' roll, klezmer and avant-garde jazz" performances. The synagogue has also hosted art exhibitions. For Shavuot 2004, it commissioned artist David Friedman to produce "Borsch and Coffee: Floral Abstractions", an exhibition of 16 paintings in the downstairs Kiddush hall. Friedman incorporated "pigment, acrylic, ink, spray paint, marker, gold powder and, yes, borsch juice and coffee grounds" into his art, the latter as a tribute to one of the nonagenarian congregants who sets up the coffee and Kiddush on Shabbat mornings.
Since 2004, the synagogue has held an annual event, either a Kiddush or sidewalk chalking gathering, memorializing the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911. Artists and synagogue board members inscribe the victims' names in chalk in front of the victims' former homes.
In 2015, the Stanton Street Shul launched its monthly Stanton Kids tefila, which includes guided prayers for kids, singing, kid-friendly foods, and a special dvar torah by the rabbi.
In popular culture
In the 1970s, The Village Voice reporter Paul Cowan came across the synagogue and included it in his book, The Tribes of America (Doubleday, 1979). Cowan went on to write a best-selling book about the synagogue and its rabbi, Rabbi Joseph Singer, titled An Orphan in History: One man's triumphant search for his Jewish roots (Doubleday, 1982). On May 6, 2015, Jewish musical artists Shlock Rock and The Maccabeats released a music video remake of Minyan Man, shot in large part at the Stanton Street Synagogue.
- National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Mendelsohn, Joyce (2009). The Lower East Side Remembered and Revisited: A History and Guide to a Legendary New York Neighborhood. Columbia University Press. p. 215. ISBN 0231147619.
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- Cowan, Paul (September 1982). "From Pilzo, Poland, to Stanton St., New York". Lower East Side Voice. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
- Nathan-Kazis, Josh (March 31, 2010). "Triangle Fire Chalking Links a Shul to Its Past". The Forward. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
- Mendelsohn (2009), p. 216.
- Greisman, Marvin (December 13–19, 2006). "Rabbi Joseph Singer, 91, served poor and mikvah". The Villager. Retrieved May 6, 2009.
- Birkner, Gabrielle (September 17, 2004). "Stanton Street Back To Life". The Jewish Week. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
- Greisman, Marvin (September 20–26, 2006). "Rabbi says his shul and Orthodoxy are both open". The Villager. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
- Litvak, Ed (September 8, 2010). "A Conversation with Rabbi Josh Yuter". The Lo-Down: News from the Lower East Side. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
- "Rabbi Josh Yuter". Stanton Street Shul. 2012. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
- Butnick, Stephanie (January 26, 2011). "Rabbi Zuckerberg: Josh Yuter, punny Twitterer". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
- Stanton Street Synagogue Newsletter, October 27, 2014.
- Weissman Joselit, Jenna (August 3, 2011). "Fate Has Been Kind to Little Shul on Stanton Street". The Jewish Week. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
- Stanton Street Synagogue Facebook page, Stanton Kids flyers, March 21, April 18, May 24, June 27, 2015.
- Cowan, Paul (1979). The Tribes of America. Doubleday. p. 243.
- Minyan Man, May 6, 2015, youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXvFHWWCT6I
- Boyarin, Jonathan (2011). Mornings at the Stanton Street Shul: A summer on the Lower East Side. Fordham University Press. ISBN 0823239004.
- Cowan, Paul (2002). An Orphan in History: One man's triumphant search for his Jewish roots. Jewish Lights Publishing. ISBN 1580231357.
- Official website
- "The Shul That Refused to Sit Still (For Its Ethnographic Portrait)"
- "The Stanton Street Synagogue" 2006 radio program produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation