May 02 2012
The streets of the Lower East Side are filled with religious spaces of all shapes and sizes: churches, Buddhist temples and synagogues, to mention a few. Even within a Judaic context, houses of worship vary greatly. The Eldridge Street Synagogue, boasting an ornate stucco façade displaying Stars of David, is a recognizably Jewish space. But, not all synagogues in the area are as easily distinguishable.
I invite you to travel back in time to the turn of the 20th- century, when the streets of the Lower East Side were filled with new immigrants arriving daily from Eastern Europe. A lack of space and a desire to worship with individuals from one’s own community led to the popularity of shtieblach, or storefront synagogues. Some were as cramped as a single room, having space for only a small minyan (quorom of 10 required for prayer). Congregations shared buildings with shops, tailors and even secular newspapers and non-kosher eateries! The Lower East Side became the home to over 500 small shtieblach, some of which still stand today.
Equipped with a map outlined by our Deputy Director Amy Stein-Milford, fellow intern Sophie and I ventured to explore Shtieblach Row, home to an entire block of small, storefront synagogues.
To the casual passerby these buildings appear to be standard tenement apartments, but plaques display the name of congregations whose roots trace back to Eastern Europe. While walking, Sophie and I stopped to take a closer look at 239 East Broadway, Congregation Chevras Yeshuas Yaakov Anshe Sfard. The founders emigrated from Austro-Hungary, and the congregation still hosts minyans. They have even made the transition into the age of the internet, and weekly minyan times are posted online. Just a few steps away is the home of Congregation Beth Hachasidim de Polen, which began in 1904 by immigrants coming from Poland.
Here at the Museum at Eldridge Street our roots also trace back to worship in a shtiebel. The congregation, Kahal Adath Jeshurun, began in 1853 and originally worshiped on Allen St., about 25 years before the doors at Eldridge Street were opened! Even today the congregation’s original ark stands in the lower level Bes Medrash (House of Study), a relic of the time before the Eldridge Street Synagogue became of a part of Lower East Side history!
Eldridge Street Trivia:
How much did it cost to move this ark from Allen Street to Eldridge Street in 1887?
We’d love to hear your guesses, and come on a tour of the Museum to learn the answer!