When Mindy Saved Hanukkah and the Eldridge Street Synagogue – Part 2

For those of you who read our interview with author Eric Kimmel, you already know that his popular children’s book, When Mindy Saved Hanukkah, takes place right here in the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Beautifully illustrated by artist Barbara McClintock, the story is about a tiny hero with towering courage who, like the Maccabees before her, is brave enough to stand up to a stronger foe. (In this case, not an evil king but a ferocious cat.)

Museum at Eldridge Street intern Ally reading from "When Mindy Saved Hanukkah"

Intern Allie Bonds reading “When Mindy Saved Hanukkah”

Preservation Detectives will find out exactly how Mindy saved Hanukkah as they go on a Mindy inspired treasure hunt this Sunday, December 14th.  In search of a Hanukkah candle, they’ll explore the synagogue’s nooks and crannies just as Mindy did in the story, and much like artist Barbara McClintock did when she came to Eldridge Street in 1996 to work on her illustrations.

Interestingly, Ms. McClintock’s drawings of the sanctuary look remarkably similar to our sanctuary today. But remember, in 1996, the synagogue was not yet fully restored, in fact, not even close. How did Ms. McClintock draw such remarkably accurate illustrations … years ahead of their time?

BM: I visited the Synagogue in 1996, before I started finished sketches for When Mindy Saved Hanukkah. It took me almost a year to create the artwork for the book, from sketch stage to finished ink and watercolor drawings.

The sanctuary was in bad shape – there were huge areas of exposed lathing on the walls and ceiling, the murals were cracked or had extensive water damage, windows were boarded up. Construction was going on so there were wires hanging everywhere, and some sections of stairways were closed off because they were unsafe to walk on. Restoration work started and stopped as funds came in and were spent. It was obvious that the sanctuary had been grand and beautiful at one time. I could see in my imagination a flourishing, elegant place with a vibrant congregation, and I brought that idea of the sanctuary to my drawings for the book.

Wide View with Ladder

The sanctuary pre-restoration, around the time Barbara McClintock was working on her drawings.

Eldridge: Your illustration of the sanctuary depicts an intact and fully restored sanctuary – it looks very much the way it looks today. But if the restoration was not yet complete at that time, how did you do such a detailed drawing?

BM: I studied the fragments of color and pattern on the walls and ceilings, and recreated from those fragments what I imagined the entire pattern of the starry domed ceilings or wall murals and intact interior must have looked like. I was extremely pleased when someone from the Eldridge Street Synagogue told me my artwork of the interior was very helpful in the restoration, as there were no images of the interior before it had deteriorated.

Eldridge:  How much time did you spend in the sanctuary to do the drawings? How many visits?

BM: I spent a full day in the sanctuary sketching and photographing, and imagining what it must have looked like when it was in its prime. I also imagined what it might have looked like to people who were 3 inches tall, which meant I spent quite a bit of time lying on the floor, sketching and photographing from the vantage point of a tiny person.

Eldridge: How did Eric Kimmel’s words inspire your art and how did the synagogue, and its story, inspire your art?

BM: Eric’s story brought me back to my love of The Borrowers. I was charmed by the warmth and love the characters had for one another in Eric’s story, especially between Zayde and Mindy. The determined spirit of the people who were working so hard to bring the Synagogue back to its former glory – and believed despite financial and logistical obstacles that it could be done – certainly reflected Mindy’s courage and determination.

Eldridge: Have you seen the synagogue since it was restored? If so, what did you think?

BM: Not yet – I’m looking forward to seeing it! I’m sure I’ll be amazed.

Thank you Barbara McClintock for your beautiful illustrations of the Eldridge Street Synagogue and for sharing your memories with us.

 For more information about Barbara McClintock and to find out about her new book, My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth, please visit her website at  barbaramcclintockbooks.com

Our interview with Barbara McClintock was edited and condensed.

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