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.
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The building, a National Historic Landmark, was scrupulously preserved and garnered numerous awards for its restoration. Since then, more than 100,000 people have visited.

Sen. Charles Schumer
Nate Lavey
Sen. Charles Schumer

In keeping with the original cornerstone ceremony, Folksbiene actor Stuart Marshall, dressed in 1880s-inspired garb, played the part of Jarmulowsky.

Other treats would follow, including a tongue-twisting, comedic operetta performed in both English and Yiddish by Folksbiene member Stephen Mo Hanan, which produced hearty laughs from the mostly elderly, Yiddish-speaking audience members.

Telushkin praised the synagogue’s restoration for representing hiddur mitzvah, or, the beautification of a mitzvah. Restoring the Eldridge Street Synagogue would itself be a mitzvah, but to do so in such a beautiful manner was in the tradition of hiddur mitzvah, he said.

The ceremony concluded with cantorial music by Jeremiah Lockwood, remarks from Bonnie Dimun, executive director of the Museum at Eldridge Street, and the offering of many wishes to be included in a 125th-anniversary time capsule.

Max Fuchs, 89, had come to the day’s event with his wife, Naomi, and their children. A cantor for many decades, he recalled leading services at the Eldridge Street Synagogue in the 1940s, after returning from service in World War II. “I was the last cantor to conduct High Holiday services,” he said.

He gave his family members much credit for their part in keeping the Eldridge Street Synagogue alive even during its declining years. “My in-laws were big machers here,” he said, referring mostly to Morris Groob, a longtime congregant and leader at the synagogue.

At a crafts table nearby, a younger crowd was enjoying the tail end of the day’s events. Ronit Muszkatblit, 36, helped her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter as they bound and decorated memory books with colorful scraps of paper.

Muszkatblit, who had been to the Museum at Eldridge Street on other occasions, said she thought the synagogue was a great destination for her children.

“It’s inspirational for them to look at,” she said, adding that she had found the program of events “very touching.”

As the autumn light faded, people filed out of the museum and back into the sights and smells of today’s Lower East Side. But inside the historic synagogue, a new group of visitors sat on the sanctuary’s carved wooden benches and listened intently to their guide.

Contact Gianna Palmer at feedback@forward.com


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