Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Museum at Eldridge St: Eldridge St and Canal

This National Historic Landmark in the Lower East Side of Manhattan is a beautiful Orthodox synagogue that has been around since 1887.  With its Romanesque and Moorish details, 50' vaulted ceilings and stunning stained glass windows (old and new), the Eldridge Street Synagogue lets visitors take a peak at NYC immigrant and religious history.

Although the neighborhood has long since stopped being a center for Eastern European Jews and is now resoundingly part of Chinatown, this museum gets its fair share of visitors.  When I went on a Monday (tours are free on Mondays) morning, there were about a dozen people led around by two docents (both members of the flourishing, posh Central Synagogue -- there is a waiting list to become a member there!).

Besides its beautiful architecture, stenciled walls (see stencils used in restoration at left), faux marble painted columns, original chandeliers and light fixtures (see right), and time-worn original wonky wood floors, the most breathtaking and other-worldly piece of art is in the newly added stained glass celestial window by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans (see below).

What I thought was such a pity is that the docent informed us that the congregants do not actually worship in this beautiful part of the synagogue, except on High Holidays.  Rather, because the congregation has decreased to a mere 25-30 members, they meet downstairs in the basement level using a small bimah (like altar) that was moved (for $3) from another synagogue that used to be on Allen Street just a few blocks away.

When the docent explained to us the placement of the main bimah in the middle of the synagogue on the main floor (see right), it made me ponder what this place must have been like in its hey day.  The middle of the room placement was to enable the rabbi to keep an eye on the male congregants (women are in the balcony separated from the men on the main floor in Orthodox synagogues) during long services and prevent them from talking finance, gossiping, etc.  I suppose when this synagogue was bustling, there was a need for longer.

If you are in the neighborhood, you could combine a visit to this beautifully restored synagogue along with a visit of the nearby Tenement Museum and make a wonderful day of it all.  Don't forget to stop into one of the numerous Chinatown neighborhood bakeries for some red bean buns or other pastries--they really are fabulous.

No comments:

Post a Comment