Happy Presidents’ Day

Happy Presidents’ Day from the Museum at Eldridge Street!

When I think of Presidents’ Day, I think of George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson – the founding fathers of our country, individuals whose ideas and values shaped the American landscape. Transported back to my American History course, buzz words: liberty, freedom & pride, rest on the tip of my tongue. At the Museum at Eldridge Street, Presidents’ Day is a great time to reflect on our own set of founding fathers, those of the American-Jewish Community here on the Lower East Side.

During the late 1800’s and at the turn of the 20th century, New York City was experiencing the largest influx of East European Jewish immigrants in history. The streets were lined with Yiddish, Shteiblach, and Kosher vendors, creating an Eastern European microcosm. Yet, American ideals and mainstream culture permeated everyday life, forcing the community to reconcile a new life in the city.

The congregation even had a Constitution, modeled in name and in form on the American Constitution, outlining the guidelines for worship and synagogue life! Anthropologist Riv Ellen Prell writes,

“Immigrant Jewish organizations, secular and religious, and large and small all had constitutions because they epitomized the exercise of democracy. Rules were clearly articulated; rights and responsibilities were laid out formally.”

New Rose Window, Kiki Smith & Deborah Gans. photo: Peter Aaron / Esto

New Rose Window, Kiki Smith & Deborah Gans. photo: Peter Aaron / Esto

The Eldridge Street Synagogue is an architectural testament to this intersection of the old life in Eastern Europe and the new in America. Throughout the building Jewish Stars are a prominent  feature, depicted, for example, in the stained glass and lighting fixtures. Alongside the Star of David, if you search for other star motifs in the building, you will notice celestial imagery above the ark. There are golden, five-pointed stars, the same image we see on the American Flag. Our stunning, new stained glass window boldly reinforces the same sentiment that the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s founders felt:

We’re Jewish, We’re American, and We’re Proud!

Click here to learn more about the intersection of the Jewish and American experience at the Eldridge Street Synagogue and the congregation’s Constitution.

Categories: Blog, History

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