A New Visitor Center and Permanent Exhibition for the Museum
By Amy Stein-Milford, Deputy Director
Progress! The Museum’s new visitor center and permanent exhibition has been a long time in the planning but it is so gratifying to see it finally coming to fruition.
As you enter the new exhibition area, you will face a reproduction of a watercolor showing the facade of the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Look closely and you will see that it bears the date 1886 – a year before the synagogue actually opened. This beautiful image was likely the architectural rendering used by Peter and Francis Herter, architects for the building. The impressive facade reflects the aspirations of Eldridge Street’s striving immigrant congregation. In brick and mortar, they were announcing their presence on the Lower East Side.
A major goal for the exhibition was to introduce some of the characters associated with the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s early years. From early accounts, we knew the congregation was diverse: “Lawyers, merchants, artisans, clerks, peddlers, and laborers compose the dense and changeful throng. All are one in respect to race and faith, but many in regard to birthplace and speech. E Pluribus Unum receives a new meaning here.” But who were some of these people?
Kosher meat millionaires Isaac and Sarah Gellis, banker Sender Jarmulowsky, ragman Sam Nussbaum, and mikvah operator Gittel Natelson are just a few of the characters you will “meet” in our new exhibit. They were resourceful and pious, and able to maintain and innovate on the Jewish traditions they brought with them from Eastern Europe.
One of the most rewarding parts of this work are the talented people you get to work with. Here mount makers Beth Brideau and Amy Haskins of Object Mounts prepare to install objects into a vitrine. Beth described her work as “creating objects that are meant to disappear” and bring focus to the objects they display. Beth and Amy’s elegant brass mounts are used to display artifacts that range from a beautiful silver Torah shield to a ceramic spittoon. All help tell the synagogue’s story.
One of the new and most beautiful features of the permanent exhibition is a map of Eastern Europe. It highlights the Pale of Settlement and other places where Jews lived in great numbers before coming to the United States. This map is special – an artwork create by Albert and Maureen Lorenz and with typography and layout by Tom Kracauer. The map not only shows the area of Jewish migration but also introduces some of the “characters” associated with the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s early years. One thousand thanks to genealogist Roger Lustig, urban historian Barry Feldman, and historian Richard Rabinowitz for their guidance on the map.
The Museum’s interactive displays, created by Potion Design, have been updated. They are grouped by theme: Lower East Side; Jewish Practice; and Architecture and Historic Preservation. These magical displays have a wealth of information, historic images and fun games.
I’ll be posting regularly over the next week as we put the finishing touches on the new exhibition. I cannot wait for our the new center’s opening on Thursday, June 12.