Eldridge Street Shul Recalls Founding

125 Years Later, Reenacting a Cornerstone of Jewish Life

Recreating History: A klezmer band plays in the ornate sanctuary of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, which marked the 125th anniversary of its founding.
Nate Lavey
Recreating History: A klezmer band plays in the ornate sanctuary of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, which marked the 125th anniversary of its founding.

By Gianna Palmer

Published November 16, 2011, issue of November 25, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Outside the Eldridge Street Synagogue, it was a regular Sunday on New York’s Lower East Side, as residents and tourists picked their way past stands piled high with Chinese greens and five-and-dime stores bearing signs written in Mandarin.

Inside the historic sanctuary, visitors were transported back 125 years to the days when the signs were all in Yiddish and a group of neighbors came together to found the first great American house of worship built by Eastern European Jews.

The cornerstone-laying ceremony of 1886 was a festive affair with live music and a host of community leaders included in the program.

So on its anniversary, organizers from the synagogue — now also a not-for-profit organization known as the Museum at Eldridge Street — held a re-enactment, complete with klezmer music, speeches and fun. There was even an actor in period costume re-creating the speech given by the synagogue’s founding president, Sender Jarmulowsky.

“I can’t think of a greater symbol of our faith or our commitment to our community,” said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a surprise guest. “This is the cradle of American Jewry.”

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin paid tribute to a group of dedicated people who obsessively pursued the extensive renovation of the synagogue, which was completed in 2007.

“What can I say?” Telushkin said. “Thank God for meshuggeners.”

The day’s celebration, which was co-sponsored by the National Yiddish Theatre — Folksbiene, kicked off with a performance by Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars. The five musicians walked slowly through the striking main floor of the sanctuary, with its 50-foot vaulted ceiling, handsome wood fixtures and stained-glass windows. Once they passed the synagogue benches crowded with people, the band members made their way to the bimah and performed to the rhythmic claps of the enthusiastic audience.

Michael Weinstein, chairman of the Museum at Eldridge Street, gave the first of several speeches, thanking those who had given their time and money to the museum over the years. He recalled how far the synagogue had come since he first visited it, 22 years ago. “The building was in great disrepair, but had this power about it that emanated through the walls,” he said.

In a short documentary about the building, historian Roberta Brandes Gratz, who spearheaded the efforts to save the synagogue, also recalled her first time inside the then dilapidated synagogue sanctuary. “As we walked in, the pigeons just flew out from everywhere,” she said.

The synagogue had declined over several decades, due to a combination of the immigration quota laws in the 1920s, the Great Depression and a shrinking Jewish population on the Lower East Side. The renovation of the synagogue took 20 years and cost $18.5 million.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.