Rose Windows

Rose Window, Western wall. Stained glass and tracery.
Eldridge Street Synagogue

Glass blocks filled the space of original rose
window, eastern wall, from the 1940s until 2010.
Eldridge Street Synagogue.

Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans Window,
Installed 2010, eastern wall.
Eldridge Street Synagogue.


The Eldridge Street Synagogue was originally adorned by glorious rose windows on its eastern and western walls. Like all aspects of the building’s design, these Gothic windows tell an important story about this landmark’s history.

The western rose window is a central feature of the building’s façade and announces Jewish and sacred nature of the building to all passing by.  This huge round window is decorated with twelve floral shaped roundels, each with a star of David in its center. While this window is original to the building’s 1887 design, its counterpart on the eastern wall above the synagogue’s ark is not.

No early drawings or photographs exist of the original east rose window.  Records indicate that it was damaged by weather around 1940.  In 1944, a congregant donated funds to replace the window with economical glass blocks, which were installed in the shape of two sets of paired tablets.  (See the photograph above.)

In October 2010, the eastern window was replaced by a new permanent installation, a monumental stained-glass window designed by contemporary artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans. The commission marks the final significant component of our 20-year restoration, and is a wonderful marriage of new and old in our historic sanctuary.

Discussion Questions

  • Look closely at the rose window on the western wall. What do you notice?
  • No information exists about the intent or significance of the choices made for the design of the original rose windows. Why do you think the shapes and patterns seen were selected?
  • What do you think the original eastern window looked like?
  • Because it was damaged, the original eastern rose window was replaced in the 1940s with glass blocks. In 2010, the Museum replaced the glass blocks with a new, modern design.  Do you think this was a good idea?
  • If you were asked to design a new rose window for the Synagogue, what choices would you make?

Classroom Extensions

  • The rose window on the eastern wall represented a huge preservation question, one that was debated long and hard by preservationists and the Museum’s Board and staff.  Three views were contemplated. The first was to leave the window alone. The second was to replace the window with something that would look like what the original might have looked like. The third choice was to replace the window with a new design. Have your students debate the issue from a historical, preservation and aesthetic perspective.
  • When the Museum decided to replace the eastern rose window, it commissioned many artists to submit design proposals. Have students submit designs for a new rose window. Proposals should including drawings and a short essay explaining their choices of palette, shapes, and theme.
  • Listen to Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans discuss their design for the eastern window.
  • Watch The East Window, a documentary about Jenny Carchman’s documentary about the creation of the Museum’s new Kiki Smith-Deborah Gans window.