Ways We Worship

Former summer intern Nina Wasserman helps to model a Torah breastplate from our collection.

‘Tis the season, but not just for dreidels and presents galore. As Americans gather to celebrate their respective traditions, we at the Museum at Eldridge Street find ourselves asking: What happens when a traditional religious community finds itself in a new country? On our new Ways We Worship tour we explore the theme of religious ritual as practiced in America. Tracing the path of a Sabbath service at Eldridge Street circa 1887, visitors see, hear and touch objects and artifacts associated with Jewish worship. Along the way, we reflect on the similarities between the many religious groups and cultures who have settled in America over the past 200 years.

Over the past few months giving this tour, I’ve been amazed at the connections our visitors have drawn between 19th-century practice at the Eldridge Street Synagogue and their own experiences. As we say on the tour, there is no one way to look, act or be Jewish, and drawing out the diversity of practice among Jews allows visitors to share their own experiences of different faith practices.

My personal favorite part of the tour is when we are about to enter the magnificent main sanctuary and pause to think about an essential question: what does one wear to synagogue? Though it may seem trivial, thinking about clothing as a costume we wear to signify status or belonging to a community has been incredibly fruitful. Some of the discussions in which I have participated include: How does the Jewish tallis, or prayer shawl, compare to Mormon undergarments? Are there similarities between modesty requirements in Judaism and Islam? How do you show respect in a house of worship—by taking off or putting on a headcovering, whether a hat or a yarmulke? Does worshipping in Saturday or Sunday best make the day more reverent, or would you prefer a service that can be attended in jeans and a tee shirt?

So if you’re interested in historic Jewish practice, how a synagogue actually works, handling artifacts from our collection or just some thoughtful discussion, stop by for the Ways We Worship tour. Offered daily at 12:30 PM.

Categories: History, Jewish History

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