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Eldridge Street Synagogue

Eldridge Street Synagogue (33)

This beautiful building erected in 1887 by Jews from Eastern Europe, especially Poland, Romania and Russia, was one of the first synagogues in the city and, for a long time, the biggest and the most beloved by newcomers. In fact, it is the first Orthodox synagogue in the United States and serves the Congregation Kahal Adath Jeshurun with Anshe Lubz, in addition to offering a fantastic museum to provide an insight into the synagogue's history and that of its faithful.

The building was designed by the architects Peter and Francis William Herter, known as the Herter Brothers, and from the outset it served not only as a place of worship but as a place for welcoming new Americans, the needy and the sick. Here they were fed and given shelter. They were even taught a trade and help with looking for a job where they could make progress. This synagogue was undoubtedly a social institution and that's how many remember it.

And so it was for half a century, a time in which the Eldridge Street Synagogue shined. However, unfortunately its members gradually began to spread to other areas of New York and the Great Depression of 1929 had a profound impact on the funds of the members of the Congregation. Thus, the synagogue fell into disrepair and by 1950 the building was terribly run down. Even the main sanctuary remained empty for nearly 25 years, from 1955 to 1980.

In 1987, a project to restore the splendour of the late 19th and early 20th centuries began and ran for 20 years. In 2007, this beautiful synagogue reopened its doors to continue to offer religious services and to surprise tourists with an interesting museum about the history and traditions of the synagogue and the Jewish people.

The building is an oriental-style structure that masterfully combines Romanesque, Arab and Gothic elements. Take time to look at the doors in their arches, the columns, the windows, the rose window and other details that, of course, use number patterns taken from the Kabbalah. For example, the 12 circles in the rose window symbolise the tribes of Israel and the five lock-shaped windows below symbolise the five books of Moses.

Once inside, you mustn't miss the ark, carved out of chestnut wood, which houses the scrolls of the Torah and is located on the wall facing Jerusalem, as dictated by tradition. You'll love the cantor's stand, which is also carved out of wood, and the brass lamps that were originally powered by gas until electricity arrived in 1920.

This is a splendid synagogue right in the heart of Chinatown. This would probably only happen in New York, right? If you are passionate about the heritage of the Jewish community, remember to visit the Jewish Museum on the stretch of Fifth Avenue known as Museum Mile, with 93rd Street.

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