The First Rosh Hashanah at the Eldridge Street Synagogue
On September 4, 1887, a group of immigrant worshippers gathered for High Holiday services on the Lower East Side. The men were dressed in dark suits and top hats; the women in ostrich plumes and diamonds. This holiday was special. Not only were they celebrating the start of the Jewish New Year but also the opening of a new synagogue – the first of its kind in America.
This was the first Rosh Hashanah service in the Eldridge Street Synagogue and the first time the Jewish immigrant community from Eastern Europe had erected a synagogue from the ground up.
No longer would they crowd into a rented hall or hold services in a former church adapted for Jewish ritual use. Instead the hundreds of worshippers who had come to usher in the New Year would sit in a building tailored to their religious practices. The grand ark was lined with velvet and held two dozen Torah scrolls; the bimah was carved of precious walnut; and the many decorative Stars of David found both within the building and mounted from its rooftop proudly proclaimed the site as a Jewish house of worship. The congregation’s newly hired cantor Pinhas Minkowsky, renowned for his sweet singing, had just recently arrived from Odessa and helped draw crowds for the High Holidays.
Construction had begun just less than a year earlier. The congregation’s savvy lay leadership, led by banker Sender Jarmulowsky, purchased land, negotiated contracts, worked with architects and artisans, pushing for a September opening. They must have recognized the symbolism of opening for the New Year.
I can’t help but believe that when the shofar was sounded, all those sitting in the pews felt a special sense of awe, reverence and excitement. For this year they were reflecting on their past – the family and friends and land they had left behind. But also they were contemplating a new beginning in a new land, a new neighborhood and a new house of worship.
Rosh Hashanah Services Today:
Did you know that today a small group of worshippers continues to meet at the Eldridge Street Synagogue every Shabbos and for all of the Jewish holidays, including, of course, Rosh Hashanah? They’ll be conducting High Holiday services here in the traditional Orthodox manner of the synagogue’s first members. For more information about services call 212-227-8780.
Museum Hours during the Holiday:
The Museum will be closed for the holidays beginning at 3 pm on Sunday, September 13 and all day Monday, September 14 and Tuesday, September 15. For more information visit our website at http://www.eldridgestreet.org.
By Amy Stein-Milford, Deputy Director