Design Quirks of the Eldridge Street Synagogue

By Anna Shneyderman, Museum at Eldridge Street Intern

This Sunday, October 12th the Museum at Eldridge Street will take part in Open House New York, America’s largest architecture and design event. Open House New York fosters an appreciation of the city’s architectural treasures, celebrating excellence in design, preservation efforts, and the city’s history. As part of Open House New York, visitors can tour Eldridge Street this Sunday for free! When you visit on Sunday ( or another day!), be sure to look out for these quirky design elements that enrich the story the space tells.

Snuff Box/Spittoon – Located on the building’s lower level bes medrash/visitor center:
Many of us have, or have had, a bad smoking habit. Things were no different for members of the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s early congregation. The only caveat was that on the Sabbath, Orthodox Jews are not permitted to light a match. How did the synagogue’s early members satisfy their craving? Chewing tobacco! The synagogue’s members affixed a wooden snuff box to the synagogue’s lower level reader’s platform which regularly contained a small amount of communal chewing tobacco. The use of an accompanying porcelain spittoon was considered a sign of decorum – no spitting tobacco on the hardwood floors!

Nope, no tobacco in here today.

Nope, no tobacco in here today

The fanciest of spittoons

The fanciest of spittoons

Exposed Wall – Located in the building’s balcony:
A small portion of the wall in the sanctuary was left unrestored, a poignant marker of how deteriorated the synagogue had become. Visitors should make a point to see the exposed wall in the upstairs balcony and appreciate the sheer amount of effort required to bring the sanctuary back to its original grandeur.

exposed wall

Burnt Mortgage – Located on the lower level in the Museum’s permanent exhibition:
On March 18, 1945, members of the congregation were invited to a special ceremony for the dedication and burning of the mortgage of the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Refreshments, speeches, cantorial music and the dramatic burning of the mortgage papers were part of the festivities. Today, visitors can see the remnants of the mortgage on display In the Museum’s new permanent exhibit.

The remnants of the mortgage that was completely paid off in the 1940s

The remnants of the mortgage that was completely paid off in 1945

Painted “Marble” – Located in the building’s main sanctuary:
Most of the “marble” in the sanctuary is actually just a very good paint job. Faux painting techniques were popular back when the synagogue was built in 1887, and cut down costs – real marble is expensive. If you come to the Open House and touch the marble-esque columns, you’ll see what I mean!

fake marble

Come join us for our Open House New York and check out our other upcoming events!

What are your favorite design elements in the Eldridge Street Synagogue?

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