From the posh Fifth Avenue establishments overlooking Central Park on the Upper East Side, the third – and final – leg of our discovery OHNY weekend brought us south, to one of New York’s first neighbourhoods where millions of immigrants from all over the world came to settle and where, by 1900, more than 700 people per acre were living in an area lined with tenements and factories, according to the Library of Congress.
Between 1880 and 1924, 2,5 million mostly impoverished Ashkenazi Jews came to the U.S. and nearly 75 percent took up residence on the Lower East Side. (source)
After years of makeshift gatherings in tenements, a dedicated place of worship had become a necessity. Thus the Eldridge Street Synagogue opened its doors in 1887 to New York City Jews from all walks of life. The crowds on holy days were so great that police on horseback had to impose crowd-control. But then came the 1920s with a series of laws to limit the flow of immigrants, the number of worshipers began to decline, many moved to the suburbs and so the Synagogue fell into disuse – and later in complete disrepair.
A sign inside the Museum reads:
‘‘On a narrow street in Chinatown, in a bustling and ever-changing neighbourhood, the Eldridge Street Synagogue stands – a vestige of another era. It is among the last remaining markers of a time when the Lower East Side was the largest Jewish community in the world. As the first grand synagogue built in America by immigrants from Eastern Europe, it is a repository of its founders’ pride, traditions and spirit. And it is a testament to the struggles of the generations that followed, as well as to the dedication of a new community that gathered to save and renew it.”
In December 2007, the restoration of the Synagogue was completed. It took twenty years to bring it back from the brink of ruin to the awe-inspiring landmark it is today, bathed in a soft light pouring from the rose glass window, on the one side, and Kiki Smith’s starry stained-glass, on the other.
For more about the Synagogue’s painstaking restoration please check the Museum’s webpage (before and after photos). The difference is simply astonishing.
Another sign inside the Museum reads:
I don’t know about my photos but the place is wonderfully photogenic – that much is true:
In this series we revisited three – out of the dozens of – buildings and sites that opened their doors during OHNY weekend, on October 14 & 15th, 2017:
The General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen of the City of New York
Cultural Services of the French Embassy & Albertine
The Eldridge Street Synagogue
Open House New York weekend takes place every year in October.
Next series coming up: October 19-20, 2019.