Places that Matter

Eldridge Street Synagogue

click on image for slideshow
Exterior overview, Kate Milford
Exterior overview, Kate Milford
Concert, Kate Milford
Female retorer, Eldridge Street Project
Exterior detail-1,
Exterior detail-2,
Exterior detail-3,
First great synagogue constructed by Eastern European Jews in U.S.
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Place Matters Profile

By Amy Stein Milford, the Eldridge St. Project

Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Light, celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. This year, the holiday holds special meaning for one of New York City’s most significant American-Jewish sites--the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue. This magnificent Moorish Revival building--the first great house of worship built in America by East European Jews--is now entering the last year of a major restoration overseen by the not-for-profit Eldridge Street Project. The building is certainly a place that matters--for its architectural beauty, spiritual significance and rich immigrant history. Under the auspices of the Eldridge Street Project, the synagogue is being revitalized as a dynamic museum exploring the immigrant experience, historic preservation and Jewish culture. A small congregation has met continuously in the building for Sabbath services since its opening.

Surrounded by Buddhist temples, Chinese restaurants, and tenement apartments, the Eldridge Street Synagogue gives evidence of the East European community that built it more than a century ago. With its impressive rooftop finials and their Stars-of-David, the building declares itself a Jewish house of worship. How proud its original congregants must have been to establish this structure--a testament to their newly found religious freedom and their economic aspirations.

Visitors to the site, now a part of Chinatown, may wonder “What is a Synagogue doing in Chinatown"? As so many of our city landmarks disappear, it is important to preserve markers of another community and period. The Eldridge Street Project’s meticulous restoration allows visitors of all cultural backgrounds to discover a part of our nation’s rich immigrant heritage--still present in an ever-evolving city. Amid the hustle and bustle of New York City, it is an unexpected pleasure to discover the Eldridge Street Synagogue--a true sanctuary in the city.