Climbing the stairs to the synagogue’s balcony brings visitors closer to the stars. Literally. Here the celestial painted patterns of the sanctuary’s walls can be viewed up close, as can the giant rose window. The balcony also affords a spectacular dead-on view of the new east window designed by Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans.
Built as seating for the women of the Orthodox congregation, this large gallery has seats arranged in tiers, reaching across the back of the nave above the side bays of the sanctuary to the eastern wall. The design of this space reveals the congregation’s negotiation between Americanization and Orthodoxy. At Eldridge, the women’s gallery is open to the space below, which was a bit of a shock for worshippers used to Eastern European synagogues where curtains and grille work divide seating for men and women. According to an 1892 account, soon after the synagogue opened, a “pierced curtain” was added along the edge of the balcony to “seclude Hebrew femininity from the disturbing gaze of the masculinity.” But this attempt at further separation did not work “for the simple reason that deft hands draw them aside or throw them up, and vision is only supposedly obstructed.”