Nearly 20 million dollars and 20 years of work by architects, artisans and craftsmen went into the restoration of the Eldridge Street Synagogue. The Moorish and Romanesque edifice was a place of worship and a community hub for many of the Eastern European Jews who settled on the Lower East Side (LES) of Manhattan in the 1880’s.
By the 1940’s many people fled the city to the suburbs. The congregation dwindled. Those that remained were unable to finance the upkeep of the grand house of worship. Unable to make repairs and heat the huge space, the main sanctuary was sealed and services were moved to a smaller space on the lower level.
In the 1980’s civic-minded citizens and congregants formed the non-sectarian Eldridge Street Project to garner support and raise money for the restoration of the building. The synagogue was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996 and the restoration was completed in 2007. Today, the Eldridge Street Synagogue remains a place of worship for its small congregation and it is the site of the Museum at Eldridge Street.
History, architecture, culture, community and faith are all subjects explored at the Museum at Eldridge Street. A significant facet of the story is the immigrant experience. Today the neighborhood is still a gateway for immigrants. The vast majority of immigrants to the LES are from China, accounting for over 20% of the neighborhood’s total immigrant population. As you make your way to the museum through the streets of the LES, it doesn’t take a great stretch of imagination to envision what the vibe of the community must have been like 125 years ago. The faces in the street have changed and the languages spoken on the street and posted on the storefronts is different, yet I suspect many of the motivations and experiences are similar and universally relatable.
Here are a few photos from my visit to the Museum at Eldridge Street.