A Photograph from the Archives

With the synagogue so beautifully restored, sometimes we forget how easily it could have been lost. This photograph here, taken by Kate Milford, is a reminder of that precarious time.

Pre-restoration interior, Eldridge Street Synagogue Photo: Kate Milford

With holes in the roof, a collapsed stairwell, and peeling-away paint, “the synagogue was held up by strings to heaven,” according to Roberta Brandes Gratz, founder of the Eldridge Street Project, the non-profit organization that  restored the synagogue and was a precursor to the Museum.

“When I got to the vestibule on the main floor, I found the doors of the sanctuary warped shut. I pulled them open and stepped inside, and my hair stood on end. It was like the Twilight Zone. There were prayer shawls strewn about, and ceramic spittoons on the floor. The prayer books dated from 1909 and had been printed in Vilnius.” So describes Dr. Gerard Wolfe in a New Yorker article dated September 26, 1988. Dr. Wolfe was the first to “re-discover” the main sanctuary after it had been sealed shut for many years.

Today thousands of people visit Eldridge Street  to connect with history and heritage, school children learn about Jewish history and culture, and a small congregation continues to meet every Sabbath and on holidays, in a tradition unbroken since 1887. As we begin preparations for the synagogue’s 125th anniversary, I think of the long life of this beautiful building and the future that is in store.
Categories: Archive & Collection, Art & Architecture, Blog

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