2. There’s a Jewish Synagogue in Chinatown, 12 Eldridge Street
The Eldridge Street Synagogue was built in 1887 as the first great house of worship by Eastern European Jews in the United States. Designed by German Catholic architects, Peter and Francis Herter, the synagogue embodied the promise of religious freedom, immigrant aspiration and the formation of a Jewish-American identity. For decades, the synagogue thrived. But in the 1920’s, many Jewish families were moving away from the Lower East Side and new immigration restrictions curbed the Jewish population even further.
Post WWII, the congregation was struggling and the decision was made to close up the main sanctuary and meet for worship in the basement. Twenty years later, a NYU Professor named Gerard Wolfe would open the doors to the main sanctuary to discover what he described as “the twilight zone.” In 1987, the Eldridge Street Project was formed with a mission to restore the synagogue to its former grandeur. Twenty years and 20 million later, the building reopened as the Museum at Eldridge Steet. Today the museum tells the story of the rise, decline and restoration of the synagogue and preserves the history of the Jewish Lower East Side.