With an impressive facade that combines Moorish, Gothic and Romanesque elements, the first grand synagogue on the Lower East Side is now surrounded by dumpling shops and Chinese herb stores, but rewind about a century and you’d find delis and mikvot (ritual bathhouses). For its first 50 years, the 1887 synagogue had a congregation of thousands and doubled as a mutual-aid society for new arrivals in need of financial assistance, health care and employment. But as Jews left the area and the congregation dwindled, the building fell into disrepair. A recently completed 20-year, $18.5 million face-lift has restored the splendor of the soaring main sanctuary, which features hand-stenciled walls and gorgeous stained-glass: an original rose window and a new design by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans. Downstairs, touch-screen displays highlight the synagogue’s architecture, aspects of worship and local history.
Visitors will use a digital self-guide on their phones to tour the museum. The digital tool will mimic the Museum’s signature docent-led tour experience while in-person tours are temporarily suspended. The app is free and accessible using a wifi connection on site. Tour content is available in English, Chinese and Spanish.
Virtual programs will take place every Sunday in June, and will be accompanied with a month of additional programming including video interviews with folk artists and neighborhood residents, at-home kids activities, blog posts, community partnerships and more.
Timed admission must be reserved in advance at eldridgestreet.org. Hours and safety guidelines are subject to change.