An artisan from Evergreene Studios works on the building
Our building tours offer visitors a peek into the workings of the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue, and we’ve been busy adding new themes and tours to our lineup. You can now experience Eldridge through the lens of immigration, ritual practice, or architecture and preservation.
On Beyond the Facade: Architecture and Preservation, we break out the flashlights and turn our visitors into forensic architects. What were the choices made by the founders of the Eldridge Street Synagogue 123 years ago? How did this building, the first synagogue built from the ground up by Eastern European Jews, reflect the aspirations of an immigrant community? What techniques and materials were used in its original construction? Which buildings, religious and secular, inspired the architecture of this space?
But this building is more than just an ossified architectural relic, and on the tour visitors also explore the 20-year, 19 million-dollar restoration of this space. What was the preservation philosophy at Eldridge Street? Where can you find the unrestored elements of the building, and why were they left alone? How does a new contemporary window, designed by Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans, fit into a high Victorian space? And my favorite: which bug produces the laquer used on the benches?
So next time you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to stop by and experience Eldridge as never before. Offered daily at 11:30, 1:30 and 3:30. Whet your appetite for architecture with this restoration video, which offers insight into the process of restoring this century-old building.
On October 28th at 7 PM, join us for a screening of the classic 1920 Paul Wegener film “The Golem” with live musical accompaniment by Gary Lucas, Emmy-nominated guitarist. Wondering about the origins of this Jewish zombie myth? Don’t worry, I’ve done a bit of poking around for you.
The word golem is used in the Bible to refer to an embryonic or incomplete substance. …Similarly, golems are often used today as a metaphor for brainless lunks or entities who serve man under controlled conditions, but are hostile to him in others. Similarly, it is a Yiddish slang insult for someone who is clumsy or slow.
The notion of animating a pile of earth can be traced back to a kabbalistic work called the Sefer Yetzirah, or the Book of Creation. Wikiepdia to the rescue again, here is the golem narrative that inspired Wegener’s film:
The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late 16th century chief rabbi of Prague, also known as the Maharal, who reportedly created a golem to defend the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks, and pogroms. Depending on the version of the legend, the Jews in Prague were to be either expelled or killed under the rule of Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor. To protect the Jewish community, the rabbi constructed the Golem out of clay from the banks of the Vltava river, and brought it to life through rituals and Hebrew incantations. As this golem grew, it became increasingly violent, killing gentiles and spreading fear. A different story tells of a golem that fell in love, and when rejected, became the violent monster seen in most accounts. Some versions have the golem eventually turning on its creator or attacking other Jews.
The Emperor begged Rabbi Loew to destroy the Golem, promising to stop the persecution of the Jews. To deactivate the Golem, the rabbi rubbed out the first letter of the word “emet” (truth or reality) from the creature’s forehead leaving the Hebrew word “met”, meaning dead.The Golem’s body was stored in the attic genizah of the Old New Synagogue, where it would be restored to life again if needed. According to legend, the body of Rabbi Loew’s Golem still lies in the synagogue’s attic.
Some more modern interpretations: a band called Golem Rocks!, “Not your father’s klezmer… unless your father was Sid Vicious”, a Golem Pokemon and even a recipe to create your very own golem from the comfort of home (ingredient list included.)