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!
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • 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.
  • 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.