At Eldridge Street, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
This blog post is adapted from a piece originally written in February 2018.
It doesn’t need to be Valentine’s Day for us to feel love in the air at the Museum at Eldridge Street. Our 133-year-old landmark building inspires effusive language from anyone who visits – and who could blame them? The sanctuary’s sumptuous decorative motifs are really quite romantic. And that’s all by design. The interior was specifically designed to stun those who entered; to make congregants marvel at the beauty and power of this spiritual space. The paint covering every inch of the walls and ceiling, the gleaming lighting, the vibrant colored glass – it’s made for swooning.
Preserving, restoring, and maintaining this inspiring site has always been a labor of love. Ever since Gerard Wolfe first stepped into the haunting decay of the shuttered sanctuary, visitors have been swept away by a desire to care for this architecture and the very human legacy it embodies. The hardworking and dedicated team of preservationists, restorers and historians who saved this building felt a dedication to the past and the potential of the Eldridge Street Synagogue. I sometimes wonder how anyone could have stepped inside a space that decayed and thought it could be saved. But our founder, Roberta Brandes Gratz, and her team had that vision. Any restoration that takes twenty years and $20 million must be fueled by a deep devotion and connection.
Now fully restored, the Museum maintains an air of the personal and intimate. And a lot of that atmosphere is due to the warm welcome given by our museum docents. A volunteer corps about 40 strong, guided-tours with our docents are the primary way that visitors engage with the history at Eldridge Street. Our docents keep our doors open, giving tours every hour, six days a week. They are a dedicated group. Many have a personal story or family connection to the synagogue or the old neighborhood and if you ask during your visit, you’ll likely get to hear that story firsthand. By the time your tour at Eldridge Street is over, you just might feel like family yourself.
Of course we’ve also seen our fair share of romantic love at Eldridge! Couples have been getting married in the sanctuary since its opening in 1887. The Museum has an collection of historic marriage certificates of couples who held their ceremony at the synagogue.
And even when the beautiful sanctuary was in disrepair, it was still attracting lovebirds with its grandeur and timeless appeal. In the midst of varying states of decay and renewal, couples like the Edelsteins and the Steins, shown below, tied the knot. It’s a rather lovely statement to choose such an environment to make a lifelong commitment – no matter how bad things get! – towards hard work, devotion, and faithfulness.
And couples still do today! Every year, couples host their beautiful ceremonies under the chuppah at Eldridge Street. And these days, instead of the timeworn beauty of a unrestored space, you get gleaming historic details and a Kiki Smith-designed window presiding over the occasion. (Looking for a stunning venue for your own event? Give us a call at 212-219-0888 x204!) Not only is the ornamentation beautiful, but we believe that the emotion and dedication expressed in the building in over a 100 years is truly palpable. While love is on your mind this week, come commune with the romantic spirit at Eldridge Street.