The Top 10 Secrets of the Eldridge Street Synagogue and Museum in NYC

Eldridge Street Synagogue-Museum at Eldridge Street-Tour-Lower East Side-Chinatown-NYC_15-001

Last month, Untapped Cities partnered with the Museum at Eldridge Street to open up the landmarked Eldridge Street Synagogue for an after hour wine reception for Untapped Cities readers. Before hand, we also hosted a Secrets of the Lower East Side tour created for Untapped in partnership with the Museum, led by Rachel Serkin, Family and Education Program Associate.

Below are 10 of our favorite secrets about this stunning historical space, located in Chinatown/Lower East Side that we learned on the tour. Join us for an upcoming tour of the secrets of the synagogue and a wine reception:

1. The Main Sanctuary of the Eldridge Street Synagogue Was Abandoned

Eldridge Street Synagogue-Abandoned-Damage-Restoration-Interior-Lower East Side-Chinatown-NYC-2Photograph by Kate Milford from Museum at Eldridge Street 

Many visitors find this dramatic fact shocking today, but for decades the main sanctuary of the Eldridge Street Synagogue sat in a state of abandonment, with nary a visitor. It was rediscovered in the 1970s, by NYU professor Gerard Wolfe who was writing his book The Synagogues of the Lower East Side. Eldridge Street was one of the spaces he desperately wanted to visit and when finally got access, this is the scene he described:

“I found the doors of the sanctuary warped shut. I pulled them open and stepped inside, and my hair stood on end. It was like the Twilight Zone, like going into the past.”

Eldridge Street Synagogue-Damage-Restoration-Lower East Side-Chinatown0NYCDamage to the dome. Image from Museum at Eldridge Street 

Eldridge Street Synagogue-Damage-Restoration-Lower East Side-Chinatown-NYC-2Damage to the chandelier and sanctuary. Image from Museum at Eldridge Street 

The dust inside was so thick you could write in it and cobwebs hung between the pillars. There was extensive water damage to the dome, with water pouring in from the openings. Pigeons had taken roost in the balcony. Empty windows where stained glass once let in light, and fragments of walls missing. As the Museum at Eldridge Street describes in their interactive exhibition, “Prayer books and prayer shawls were scattered on benches, as if waiting for services to resume.”

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