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.
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.