Lighting / Chandelier
Original design, 1887; restored 1986-2007
Brass with etched glass shades
Diameter, approximately 8 feet
The sanctuary was originally lit by hundreds of gas jets, including 75 that emanated from this huge brass Victorian chandelier which is suspended from the central dome. At that time, most of the synagogue’s members would have lived in dark rooms lit only by lamps fueled by lard, kerosene, whale oil, turpentine or coal, which gave dim light and, often, unpleasant odors. The prospect of a dazzlingly lit space would have been an unimaginable luxury. The chandelier’s delicate green glass shades originally faced upward, each surrounding a gas flame. When the Eldridge Street congregants decided to modernize in 1907 and electrify the sanctuary, the chandelier was wired and its shades were inverted to allow more light to reach worshippers below. It is likely that the decision to electrify was also made to attract new members to the congregation. The bare bulbs installed around the ten commandment tablets above the ark were also a way to flaunt this new technology.
The restoration of this chandelier was a grand undertaking. Guided by the principle that an imperfect original was better than a perfect replacement, the badly damaged and corroded fixture was disassembled, and its pieces cleaned and saved whenever possible. The historic green flower-shaped shades were carefully preserved, as well. Researchers at Aurora Lampworks, the company that restored all the synagogue’s lighting, were able to find the workshop in France where the shades had originally been made, but the technology to reproduce them has been lost.