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Recommended Reading on Architecture

In Architecture on July 7, 2010 at 2:39 pm

There are many books available to support a study on architecture. Below is a listing of some our favorite nonfiction and fiction literature.

Know of another book that belongs in this list? Please comment below and share your ideas with fellow educators.

NONFICTION

The Lower East Side Remembered and Revisited
Author:   Joyce Mendelsohn
Grades:    High School
About:     A complete walking tour guide to the Lower East Side of yesterday and today.

The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan’s Street Names and Their Origins
Author:   Moscow, Henry.
Grades:    NA
About:     This book contains brief biographical sketches for more than one hundred of Manhattan’s well- and lesser-known streets
Staff Pick: This is one of my favorite reference books for creating New York City walking tours. Street names are a fun way to learn more about the city and this book is full of fascinating facts about the past. Miriam Bader, Director of Education.

The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City’s History
Authors:   Eric Homberger and Alice Hudson
Grades:      Middle and high school
About: This encyclopedic volume traces the historical development of 400 years of New York City history in an easy to read, visually compelling format. 192 pages.

Landmark of the Spirit: The Eldridge Street Synagogue
Author:     Annie Polland
Grades:      High School and beyond
About:       The complete and fascinating history of the rise, the near fall, and the rise again of Eldridge Street Synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side. 192 pp; illustrations and photographs.

American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community
Author:     Samuel Gruber
Grades:      High School and beyond
About:       How was Jewish history expressed in 20th century synagogue design? This architectural tour includes synagogues designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, and Minoru Yamasaki. 240 pp; photographs by Paul Rocheleau. Excerpted from Amazon.

And I Shall Dwell Among Them: Historic Synagogues of the World
Author:     Yom Tov Assis
Grades:      High School and beyond
About:       The architectural diversity of these historic synagogues not only reflect the countries they were built in, but they also reveal the Jewish story of migration and survival. 176 pp; photographs by Neil Folberg

FICTION

This is New York
Author:     M. Sasek
Grades:      K-3
About:       A children’s classic first published in 1960 celebrating New York’s neighborhood, architecture and landmarks. One of a series on great cities around the world. Older children and adults will also enjoy the wonderful.  64 pages, illustrated.

Peppe the Lamplighter
Author:      Elisa Bartone
Grades:       K-5
About:        Peppe, a young immigrant, lives in a tenement in Little Italy in the early 1900s. The brilliant color illustrations are perfect in capturing the flavor of the Little Italy immigrant neighborhood in the early 1900s. Excerpted from School Library Journal.

Recommended Reading on Jewish Life

In Jewish Life on July 7, 2010 at 12:30 pm


There are many books available to support a study of Jewish life. Below is a listing of some our favorite nonfiction and fiction literature.

Know of another book that belongs in this list? Please comment below and share your ideas with fellow educators.

NONFICTION

On Synagogues…

What You Will See Inside a Synagogue
Author:   Eric A. Kimmel
Grades:    3-6
About:     This book emphasizes the Synagogue’s core purpose as a house of prayer, learning, and community and focuses on the weekly Shabbat service, holidays, and life cycle events. 31 pp; illustrated. Excerpted from School Library Journal.

Landmark of the Spirit: The Eldridge Street Synagogue
Author:     Annie Polland
Grades:      High School and beyond
About:       The complete and fascinating history of the rise, the near fall, and the rise again of Eldridge Street Synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side. 192 pp; illustrations and photographs.

American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community
Author:     Samuel Gruber
Grades:      High School and beyond
About:       How was Jewish history expressed in 20th century synagogue design? This architectural tour includes synagogues designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, and Minoru Yamasaki. 240 pp; photographs by Paul Rocheleau. Excerpted from Amazon.

And I Shall Dwell Among Them: Historic Synagogues of the World
Author:     Yom Tov Assis
Grades:      High School and beyond
About:       The architectural diversity of these historic synagogues not only reflect the countries they were built in, but they also reveal the Jewish story of migration and survival. 176 pp; photographs by Neil Folberg.

On Jewish Symbols

Sofer: The Story of a Torah Scroll
Author:   Eric Ray
Grades:   Middle School
About:    Children learn how a sofer (scribe) makes mezuzot, tefillin, and the sefer Torah. This book is somewhat text heavy, but can serve as a useful reference. 32 pp; photographs.

Menorahs, Mezuzas, and Other Jewish Symbols
Author:   Miriam Chaikin
Grades:    Grades 4-6
About:     From the Star of David to the yarmulke; from numbers to angels to stars, this book explores the significance of familiar – and less familiar symbols – in Jewish life. 112 pages; illustrations.

On Jewish Ritual…

Bar Mitzvah: A Jewish Boy’s Coming of Age
Author:   Eric A. Kimmel
Grades:    6-8
About: Kimmel describes the reason for the coming-of-age ceremony; what happens before and during it; its origins and transformations throughout Jewish history. The author includes facts about the sacred books of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims and looks at the similarities and differences in the three religions. Pages 160; illustrations. Excerpted from School Library Journal.

Bat Mitzvah: A Jewish Girl’s Coming of Age
Author:   Barbara Diamond Goldin
Grades:    6-8
About: Explores the elements of the ceremony, its evolution since it was first performed in 1922, and its impact on a variety of women. 160pp; illustrations. Excerpted from Publishers Weekly.

On Jewish Holidays…

Dance, Sing, Remember
Author:       Leslie Kimmelman
Grades:       K-4
About:        Delightful drawings, simple holiday explanations, and accompanying activities for the entire Jewish year. 48 pp; illustrated reference book.

The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays
Author:   Malka Drucker
Grades:    K-7
About:     A guide to holidays and Shabbat with stories, crafts, songs, recipes, and a Purim play. 192 pp; illustrated. Excerpted from Publishers Weekly.

Chanukah
Author:    Dana Meachan Rau
Grades:     Elementary
About:      The history and traditions of Chanukah are explained and enhanced by historic paintings, artifacts, and photographs. Excerpted from Children’s Literature.

Hanukkah Around the World
Author:    Tami Lehman-Wilzig
Grades:     Grades 3-5
About:      Italy…Uzbekistan…Tunisia… learn how Hanukkah is celebrated around the world. Enjoy unusual recipes for fried burmelos, latkes, and precipizi. 48 pp; illustrated. Excerpted from childrensbooks.about.com.

The Great Matzah Hunt
Author:     Jannie Ho
Grades:      Pre-K
About:       Hunt for matzah in this cute flap book uncovering a Passover tradition.

The Passover Seder
Author:    Emily Sper
Grades:     Grades K-3; read aloud for younger readers.
About:      A colorfully illustrated story of Passover; includes Hebrew words and how to pronounce them. 24 pp; illustrated.

Wonders and Miracles: A Passover Companion
Author:    Eric A. Kimmel
Grades:     K-5
About:      Kimmel weaves together story-telling, recipes, songs, and prayers and includes paintings, photographs, artifacts, and illustrations from historical Haggadahs. 144 pp; illustrated. Excerpted from School Library Journal.

FICTION

On Jewish Holidays…

The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah
Author:    Leslie Kimmelman
Grades:     Pre-school
About:      The famous nursery tale with a Passover twist!  32 pages; picture book. Excerpted from Jewish Book Review.

Nachson, Who was Afraid to Swim: A Passover Story
Author:     Deborah Bodin Cohen
Grades:     K-4
About:      The story of Nachson, the first Hebrew slave to walk into the Red Sea after the Jewish exodus from Egypt. 32 pages; illustrated

When Mindy Saved Chanukah
Author:    Eric Kimmel
Grades:     1-5; read aloud for younger children
About:      The miniature sized members of the Klein family live behind the walls of the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side of New York. They need to find a candle for Chanukah but it’s not a simple task when a large, pouncing cat lives in the Synagogue as well! 32 pp; illustrated.
Staff Pick:  Beautiful illustrations of the Eldridge Street Synagogue make this book a Museum favorite!

The Trees of the Dancing Goats
Author:    Patricia Polacco
Grades:     3-5
About:      Beloved author/illustrator Patricia Polacco tells a beautiful story about  about Hannukah, Christmas, and the blessings of friendship. 32 pp; illustrated.

Make a Wish, Molly
Author:     Barbara Cohen
Grades:      1-4; read aloud for younger children
About:       Wishing desperately to fit in with her new American friends, Molly, a Russian Jewish immigrant is very excited when she’s invited to her first American birthday party.  Unfortunately, the party is held during Passover, and Molly’s excitement turns to embarrassment and anger when she is not allowed to eat the cake with her new friends. A sequel to Molly’s Pilgrim, 48 pp; illustrated.

The Carp in the Bathtub
Author:     Barbara Cohen
Grades:      2-5; read aloud for younger children
About:       Two children growing up in Depression era Brooklyn decide to save the carp their mother is planning to make into gefilte fish for Passover. Considered a Passover classic.  48 pp illustrated; Excerpted from Scholastic.

On Jewish Symbols…

The Tattooed Torah
Author:   Marvell Ginsburg
Grades:   3-5
About:     Based on the true story of the rescue and restoration of a small Torah from Brno, Czechoslovakia. 32 pp; illustrations; Excerpted from Publisher’s description.

On Jewish life…

The Chosen
Author:   Chaim Potok
Grades:    8-12 and beyond
About:     Chaim Potok’s compelling novel about the depths – and limits – of friendship, tradition, and religion. 291 pp.


Recommended Reading on Immigration

In Immigration on July 7, 2010 at 9:29 am

There are many books available to support a study on immigration. Below is a listing of some our favorite nonfiction and fiction literature.

Know of another book that belongs in this list? Please comment below and share your ideas with fellow educators.

NONFICTION

People
Author:        Peter Spier
Illustrator: Peter Spier
Grades:         K-3
About:          Immigrants to New York City come from everywhere. Peter Spier celebrates the diverse cultures around the world through impressive and detailed illustrations. 48 pages.
Staff Picks:  Spier’s simple text and fun drawings take readers on a world-wide tour.  A great book to show students the many places people come from and the similarities we all share. Miriam Bader, Director of Education.

Coming to America: The Story of Immigration
Author:     Betsy Maestro
Grades:      1-5; younger for read aloud
About:       The story of immigration to America told from pre-historic times until today. 40 pp, illustrated.

I Was Dreaming to Come to America
Author:     Veronica Lawler
Grades:      3-5
About:       In their own words immigrants recall their arrival in the United States. 40 pp; illustrated. Excerpted from Amazon.

Jewish Immigrants
Authors:   Richard Worth and Robert Asher
Grades:      5-8
About:       Part of the Immigration to the United States series. Each book begins with an overview of immigration then focuses on a particular immigrant group and its unique history. 97 pp; photographs and illustrations. Excerpted from Amazon.

Quilted Landscape: Conversations with Young Immigrants
Author:     Yale Strom
Grades:      5-10
About:       26 young people from around the world share their stories of leaving home and immigrating the U.S. 80 pp; photographs. Excerpted from Amazon.

L’Chaim! To Jewish Life in America: Celebrating from  1654 Until Today
Author:     Susan Goldman Rubin
Grades:     5 and up
About:      A series of vignettes illustrate the historical experiences of Jewish Americans. 176 pp; illustrations, photographs. Excerpted from School Library Journal.

World of Our Fathers
Author:     Irving Howe
Grades:     High School and Beyond
About:      A good reference book for teachers of younger children as well, World of Our Fathers evokes the life and times of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe to America from 1880-1920.  Includes compelling oral histories and photographs.
Staff Pick:  Seminal book and where you should start if you are interested in exploring Jewish Lower East Side history. Then turn to more recent scholarship to help round out the picture.  Amy Stein Milford, Deputy Director.

FICTION

Peppe the Lamplighter
Author:      Elisa Bartone
Grades:       K-5
About:        Peppe, a young immigrant, lives in a tenement in Little Italy in the early 1900s. The brilliant color illustrations are perfect in capturing the flavor of the Little Italy immigrant neighborhood in the early 1900s. Excerpted from School Library Journal.

My Name is Yoon
Author:      Helen Recorvits
Grades:       K-2
About:        Struggling to adjust to her new life in America, Yoon, whose name means “Shining Wisdom” tries other names – and other identities –  like “cat”,”bird”, and “cupcake” as a way to feel more comfortable in her new school and new country. 32 pp; illustrations. Excerpted from Amazon.

Molly’s Pilgrim
Author:      Barbara Cohen
Grades:       2-5
About:        Russian immigrant Molly thinks she will never fit in with the other third graders in her new American school. But when she brings Mama’s Thanksgiving doll to school for a Thanksgiving project, she realizes that this American holiday is her holiday too. 32 pp; illustrated.

When Jessie Came Across the Sea
Author:      Amy Hest
Grades:       3-5; younger for read aloud
About:        Wonderful, poignant story about 13 year old Jessie leaving her Grandmother in Eastern Europe as she sets out alone for a new life in the “promised” land. 49 pp; illustrations.

The Keeping Quilt
Author:      Patricia Polacco
Grades:       3-5; younger for read aloud
About:        Clothing brought from Russia becomes part of a treasured quilt passed down and used in different ways from one generation to the next. 32 pp; illustrations.

Dreaming of America: An Ellis Island Story
Author:      Eve Bunting
Grades:       3-5; younger for read aloud
About:        Annie Moore of Cork, Ireland was the first of millions of immigrants to enter America through Ellis Island. Realistic Fiction. 32 pp; illustrations.

Fire at the Triangle Factory
Author:      Holly Littlefield
Grades:       3-5
About:         Story of two fictional young immigrant girls who worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory since the age of 10 and lived through the tragic factor fire of March 25, 1911. 48 pages; illustrated.

All of a Kind Family series
Author:      Sydney Taylor
Level:          Grades 3-6
About:         The award winning, classic series about of five young sisters on New York’s Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century. Stories are rich with detail about life in the early 1900s and Jewish traditions and holidays. Excerpted from Amazon.
Staff Pick:   My favorite children’s books! As a child, I enjoyed the exploits of these 5 sisters visiting the Library Lady and Coney Isand and Papa’s junkshop, eating chocolate babies in bed, and otherwise growing up on the Lower East Side, circa 1914. Shared them with my daughters when they wee 6 and 8. Amy Stein Milford, Deputy Director.

Rebecca Series (American Girl Collection)
Author:      Elizabeth Partridge
Grades:       3-6
About:        The latest historical character in the American Girl Collection lives on the   Lower East Side in 1914, hopes to be an actress, and tries to balance an American way of life with traditional Jewish values. Series; illustrations. Excerpted from Amazon.

The Rise of David Levinsky
Author:      Abraham Cahan
Grades:       High School and up
About:        Abraham Cahan’s classic and celebrated novel of the Russian Jewish immigrant experience and the culture clash between old world values and new world life. 298 pp.
Staff Pick:   Fun, fascinating read about a Yeshiva bucher from Eastern Europe who becomes, what else, a scheming businessman in America. Amy Stein Milford, Deputy Director.

The Breadgivers
Author:      Anzia Yezierska
Grades:       High School and beyond
About:         An authentic and touching testament of the struggle of Jewish immigrants, especially Jewish women, to find their way in the new world.
Staff Pick:   I love this book, it is a tough story, written in the vernacular of Yiddish/English of my grandparents and gives a very vivid description of growing up on the Lower East Side and becoming a teacher.  I first read this book as a freshman in college and often assign it to my students when studying immigrant America. Hanna Griff Sleven,
Director of Family History Center & Cultural Programs.

Jews Without Money
Author:      Michael Gold
Grades:       High School and beyond
About:        A fictionalized autobiography about growing up in the impoverished world of the  Lower East Side in the 1920s
Staff Pick:   Another unglamorized book about growing up poor on the Lower East Side.  All our local streets and businesses are in here! Hanna Griff Sleven, Director of Family History Center & Cultural Programs.

Architectural Glossary

In Architecture on June 9, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Use this architectural glossary to contextualize many frequently used architectural terms.  Download a full color version complete with pictures illustrating the terms, or use the definitions below to enrich your study of architecture.

Arcade: A line of arches raised on columns. The arches that line the arcade in the Eldridge Street Synagogue are horseshoe arches.

Arch: An arch spans an opening and is usually rounded. There are many arches inside the main sanctuary at the Eldridge Street Synagogue, particularly lining the upstairs balcony.

Ark (Hebrew: aron): The cabinet where the Torah scrolls are housed. The ark in the Eldridge Street Synagogue is made of walnut wood. Its shape echoes the shape of the synagogue’s façade.

Base: The lower part of a column. The exterior columns at the Eldridge Street Synagogue are made of stone.

Bay: A regularly repeating division in the architecture of a building. The stained glass windows in the main sanctuary at the Eldridge Street Synagogue are arranged in bays.

Cantor’s Platform (Hebrew: amud): A special space where the cantor, who chants the prayers during a Jewish service, stands. The cantor’s platform in the main sanctuary is made of latticed wood. The music stand has a large star of David on it.

Capital: The top part of a column. The capitals on the exterior columns are highly decorated and elaborately carved.

Column: A column consists of three parts: the base, shaft and capital (bottom, middle, top) and often supports a roof or balcony. The Eldridge Street Synagogue has both exterior and interior columns.

Chandelier: An ornate lamp with multiple branches that hangs from the ceiling. The sanctuary’s Victorian chandelier is over 120 years old and was originally lit by gas. In 1907, the congregation switched to electricity and flipped the glass sconces upside down to accommodate light bulbs.

Clerestory: A series of windows placed high up on a wall. The clerestory in the Eldridge Street Synagogue has circular and keyhole windows. All of them are made of stained glass.

Cornice: Any horizontal section of decorative molding at the top of a building, arch or wall. A patterned band of horizontal molding, the cornice, adorns the topmost corner of the façade.

Dome: A curved roof structure with a circle-shaped base. The ceiling above the women’s gallery contains domes with blue and gold star murals painted on them.

Eternal light (Hebrew: ner tamid): A light that hangs in front of the ark in synagogues around the world. This light remains lit at all times, day or night. The eternal light at the Eldridge Street Synagogue is very ornamented, with a griffin head at the top and a crown motif surrounding the basket below.

Exterior: The outside of a building. Four wooden doors, five finials and one large rose window are some of the features visible on the synagogue’s exterior.

Façade: The front or “face” of a building. Much of the facade of the Eldridge Street Synagogue is decorated with terracotta ornamentation.

Faux: This means “false” and refers to when an artist makes one material look like something else. The columns and walls in the main sanctuary have a faux finish—they look like marble, but are really just painted to look that way.

Fenestration: The organization and design of windows in a building. The fenestration at the Eldridge Street Synagogue is arranged on two main levels.

Finial: A kind of decoration found at the top point of a building. The Eldridge Street Synagogue’s façade has five finials, which are echoed on the walnut ark inside the sanctuary. All the finial are topped with stars of David.

Frieze: An ornamented band that runs along the outside of a building or top of a wall. The exterior frieze at the Eldridge Street Synagogue is ornamented with terracotta shapes, stars and flowers.

Gallery: The gallery is an elevated seating area, which is also called a balcony. The gallery is where the women would sit during a prayer service at the Eldridge Street Synagogue.

Horseshoe Arch: An arch that curves in the same way that a horseshoe does. This type of arch is unique to Moorish architecture. There are many horseshoe arches lining the arcade inside the main sanctuary.

Interior: The inside of a building. There is a great deal of decoration, including faux finishes, murals, and a variety of windows, in the Eldridge Street Synagogue interior.

Keyhole window: A window that is circular at the top and rectangular at the bottom. The Eldridge Street Synagogue has stained glass keyhole windows visible both outside and inside the building.

Mosaic: A picture that is made up of small tiles or glass. The floors in the vestibule are an example of mosaic at the Eldridge Street Synagogue.

Molding: A strip of carved or curved wood used for decoration. The balcony railing offers one example of decorative molding inside the synagogue.

Mural: A painting made directly onto a wall. The blue domes with gold stars above the gallery are an example of interior mural in the main sanctuary.

Newel: Wooden posts at the top and/or bottom of a flight of stairs. The newels at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the main sanctuary have stars of David carved into their surfaces.

Oculus: A round window. There are many oculi (plural) visible inside the main sanctuary, particularly in the clerestory.

Ornament: A detail that is carved, painted or added to a building for decoration. The terra cotta stars of David on the synagogue’s façade are examples of exterior ornaments.

Plinth: The base of a column or door frame. The large piece of stone below the base of the column is the plinth. There are plinths located beneath the columns on the synagogue’s exterior.

Reader’s Platform (Hebrew, bimah): The raised platform from which the Torah scrolls are read during a Jewish prayer service. The reader’s platform at the Eldridge Street Synagogue is located in the center of the sanctuary and made of cherry wood.

Rose window: A large, circular stained glass window divided into segments by tracery.  Primarily found in buildings with Gothic architecture. The rose window at the Eldridge Street Synagogue has twelve large circles and twelve small circles with flower motifs.

Rosette: A rose-like motif often carved into stone or wood or cast as metal. The façade of the Eldridge Street Synagogue is ornamented with stone rosettes.

Shaft: The middle part of a column, between the base and the capital. The shaft of an exterior column at the Eldridge Street Synagogue has a textured pattern.

Skylight: A window that is set in the roof or ceiling so that light comes through. The exterior of the Eldridge Street Synagogue has a skylight on its roof.

Stained Glass: Small pieces of colored glass, arranged into an image or design, and held together by lead strips within a frame of tracery. The stained glass windows in the Eldridge Street Synagogue contain only geometric shapes and patterns, not figuration.

Torchere: A tall stand or fixture with lights on top. There are four torcheres surrounding the raised reader’s platform.

Tracery: Stonework elements that support glass in Gothic windows. Tracery in the rose window at the Eldridge Street Synagogue was particularly visible prior to the window’s restoration.

Trompe L’oeil: Literally, “to trick the eye.” A realistic painting that looks like something it is not. This is one type of faux finish. The windows on either side of the Ark are trompe l’oiel. They look like real windows, but are actually just paint.

Ner Tamid

In Historic Preservation, Jewish Life on June 7, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Ner Tamid. Cast Bronze. Eldridge Street Synagogue.


About

The ner tamid is the light that traditionally hangs above the ark within synagogues. Hebrew, for “eternal light,” the ner tamid remains lit continuously, even when other lighting is switched off. The concept of an eternal light connects to the menorah, or ritual candelabra, that burned historically in the Temple in Jerusalem. Additionally, the light is a reminder of the ever-presence of God in the Synagogue.

The upper portion of the ner tamid in the Eldridge Street Synagogue consists of a griffin head with  golden wings, which connects the fixture to the Ark.  From the griffin head’s mouth extends a chain from which hangs a delicately carved basket containing the ever-burning light. Although the original ner tamid is no longer extant, the contemporary ner tamid created by artisans at Aurora Lampworks during the synagogue’s restoration hangs as a modern recreation of the 19th century piece. The fixture is cast in bronze and ornamented through chasing and repoussé, two inverse processes that shape malleable metal by sinking or raising the material’s surface with chisels and hammers. These techniques allow for great ornamentation and detail, which is particularly evident in the “crown and basket”  at the bottom of the fixture.

Ner Tamid, detail. Cast Bronze. Eldridge Street Synagogue.

The griffin head was inspired by several old photographs of the synagogue’s interior.  A mythical creature, griffins have the body of a lion and the head of an eagle. This enigmatic form invites several possible interpretations.  Within the Jewish tradition, a lion has historical associations with the tribe of Judah and the modern city of Jerusalem.  The eagle head motif might reference the following passage:

He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29-31)

In this interpretation, the eagle might symbolize the strength needed for the Jewish immigrants to create a new life in America. Another common association of the eagle is with American democracy.  The eagle might therefore be a patriotic expression of the immigrant founders of the Eldridge Street Synagogue.

Certainly, there are additional interpretations of the griffin head motif, as well as the likelihood that its significance is no singular association, but rather a compilation of many. What we do know is that once considered the guardian of treasure and the divine in antiquity, the griffin of the ner tamid at Eldridge Street stands watch both day and night.

Discussion Questions

  • Brainstorm associations of light. Where else, or in what other traditions, is light symbolically used? Why?
  • Consider the three architectural elements that are fundamental to a synagogue—the ark, the reader’s platform and the eternal light. What do these elements have in common? What are the core architectural elements of other places of worship you have visited?
  • We do not have any information regarding the original intent for the design of the ner tamid. What do you think the griffin represents?

Classroom Extensions

  • Conduct research on use of light in other religious spaces.  Compare your findings with the use of light within the the Eldridge Street Synagogue.
  • Explore the techniques of chasing and repoussé that  Aurora Lampworks used in recreating the ner tamid. Use a toothpick to create a design in heavy duty foil.
  • Learn more about Aurora Lampworks and their work at the Eldridge Street Synagogue on their website where a case study of the project is featured.

Rose Window

In Architecture, Historic Preservation on April 22, 2010 at 11:46 am

Rose Window, Western wall. Stained glass and tracery. Eldridge Street Synagogue

Rose Window, Eastern wall. Glass and cement. Eldridge Street Synagogue.

About

The Eldridge Street Synagogue is adorned by two glorious rose windows on its eastern and western walls. Like all aspects of the building’s design, these Gothic windows tell an important story about this landmark’s history.

The western rose window is decorated with twelve floral shaped roundels, each with a star of David in its center. This window is a central feature of the building’s façade and announces to all passerby’s the Jewish and sacred nature of the building. While this window is original to the building’s 1887 design, its counterpart on the eastern wall is not.

No early drawings or photographs of the window originally installed on the eastern wall exist. Records indicate that this rose window was damaged by weather and removed around 1940. Unfortunately, a lack of funds prevented the congregation from fixing the window and installing a new design until 1944, when a congregant donated the replacement pictured above of glass blocks in the shape of two sets of paired tablets.

In the summer of 2010, the eastern window will be replaced by a new permanent installation, a monumental stained-glass window designed by contemporary artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans. The commission marks the final significant component of our 20-year restoration, and is a wonderful marriage of new and old in our historic sanctuary.

Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans. Preliminary rendering of new rose window.

Discussion Questions

  • Look closely at the rose window.  What do you notice?
  • No information exists about the intent of the design choices within the original rose windows. Why do you think the shapes and patters seen were selected?
  • What do you think the original eastern window looked like?
  • Do you think the Museum should replace the 1944 rose window installed on the eastern wall?
  • If you were asked to design a new rose window for the Synagogue, what choices would you make?

Classroom Extensions

  • The rose window on the eastern wall represents a huge preservation issue. Should the window remain or be replaced was heavily debated by preservationists and staff.  Three views were contemplated. The first was to leave the window alone. The second was to replace the window with something that would have looked more like the original. The third choice was to replace the window with a new design.  Have your students debate the issue from a historical, preservation and aesthetic perspective.
  • Listen to Kiki Smith and Deborah Gans discuss their design for the eastern window.
  • When the Museum decided to replace the eastern rose window, it commissioned many artists to submit design proposals.  Have students submit designs for a new rose window. Proposals should including drawings and a short essay explaining their choices of palette, shapes, and theme.

Eldridge Street Synagogue Interior

In Architecture, Jewish Life on February 28, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Eldridge Street Synagogue Interior. Photograh by Kate Milford. Museum at Eldridge Street.

About

The magnificent interior of the Eldridge Street Synagogue offered a powerful contrast to the squalid and crowded neighborhood just outside the doors. The sanctuary’s 3,060 square feet, 50 foot high barrel vaulted ceiling, and 67 glorious stained glass windows created a sense of light and space rarely found on the Lower East Side.

This grand sanctuary comfortably seats 750 worshippers and has accommodated more than 1000 on the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement).  Men and boys sit in the lower level and women and girls sit in the balcony above, called the ezras nashim in Hebrew, in accordance with Orthodox tradition.

Stained Glass. Glass and Tracery. Photograph by Kate Milford. Museum at Eldridge Street.

The focal point of the room is the walnut ark, or aron, on the eastern wall, which held the congregation’s 24 Torah scrolls. Its majestic stature and beautiful carvings replicate details found on the building’s facade.  Blue tablets containing the Ten Commandments painted in gold top its upper circular form. Surrounding the commandments are bare light bulbs, which were added in 1907 when the building was electrified. A golden eternal light called the  Ner Tamid hangs from the ark.  Stars of David mimic the outdoor finials that crown the building’s edifice.

Ten Commandments. Photograph. Museum at Eldridge Street.

In front of the ark is the cantor stand, from which the cantor or chazzan leads the service.  Its elaborate detailed carving signifies the importance placed on cantorial singing by the founders of the  Eldridge Street Synagogue. The stand includes two of the building’s popular symbols, the circle and the Star of David. The ledge holds music sheets or prayer books. Sawtooth hinges adjust the ledge to the cantor’s height.

Cantor Stand. Carved Walnut. Photo by Kate Milford. Museum at Eldridge Street.

In the center of the sanctuary is the bimah, an elevated platform from which the Torah scrolls were read.

Bimah. Walnut, Metal, and Velvet. Photograph. Museum at Eldridge Street.

A Victorian style chandelier hangs down from the painted ceiling.   Composed of over 400 parts, the brass fixture adds light and grandeur to the sanctuary.

Grand Chandelier. Etched Glass and Brass. Photograph by Kate Milford. Museum at Eldridge Street.


Discussion Questions

  • What design motifs and symbols do you notice? What might they represent or symbolize to the congregation that worships at Eldridge Street?
  • How does the interior of the building communicate its function?
  • In what ways is this sanctuary similar or different to other places of worship you have visited?
  • Historian Annie Polland described the interior of the Eldridge Street Synagogue as an architectural sabbath. Just as the sabbath provides a sense of  space from the rest of the week, the sanctuary of the Eldridge Street Synagogue provides a space distinct from the cramped living conditions of the Lower East Side pictured below.  Do you agree with her statement?

    A Scene in the Ghetto, Hester Street, 1902. Photo by B.J. Falk (1853-1925). Library of Congress.

Classroom Extensions

  • Look at the drawing Reading from the Scroll to see a service being conducted in the sanctuary. How does the drawing compare to this photograph?
  • Have students take on the role of an architecture firm designing a synagogue sanctuary.  Students should design everything from window patterns and lighting fixtures to ritual objects like the Ark and the Bimah. Attention should be given to the function of the space and to the selection of a palette and materials.
  • Watch a movie documenting the restoration of the interior of the synagogue and hear from the artisans who helped to make this sanctuary grand once again.

Eldridge Street Synagogue Restoration

In Architecture, Historic Preservation on February 24, 2010 at 8:27 pm

About

From its opening in 1887 through the 1920s the Eldridge Street Synagogue remained a popular place of worship.  By the 1920s the congregation had dispersed far beyond the Lower East Side, and immigration quotas like the 1924 National Origins Act  stemmed the tide of new arrivals. By the 1950s, a depleted but stalwart congregation could no longer afford the repairs needed to maintain the building, or even to heat its sanctuary, and met instead in the street level chapel know as the Bes Medrash. By the the 1970s, the building itself was in grave disrepair, with its foundations compromised, a leaky roof, and unsound structure.

By the 1970s, when New York University Professor Gerard Wolfe persuaded the congregation’s sexton, Benjamin Markowitz ,to let him enter the sanctuary as part of his research for his book, The Synagogues of the Lower East Side, the synagogue was in severe disrepair.  “I cannot forget how my hair stood up and goose pimples arose on my back,” recalls Wolfe.  Pigeons roosted in the balcony, and dust blanketed the wood and painted surfaces, and the stained-glass windows were grime-coated and in disrepair.

Hoping to preserve and ultimately restore the building, the journalist and preservationist Roberta Brandes Gratz and attorney William Josephson incorporated the not-for-profit nonsectarian Eldridge Street Project in 1986. The Project mounted the largest independent restoration not supported or attached to an institution or government agency in New York City. Their dedicated work spanned 20 years and cost 18.5 million dollars.

In restoring Eldridge Street, architects, Jill Gotthelf and Walter Sedovic, specialists in sustainable preservation, helped create a green restoration program. They salvaged historic materials, used recycled and long-lasting materials, and worked locally whenever possible. Together with the stained-glass artisans of Gil Studio, paint specialist of Evergreene Paint,  and lighting experts of Aurora Lampworks, they worked to restore the synagogue to its former grandeur.  The restoration video above tells the story of their remarkable work.

In 2007, the restoration of the Eldridge Street Synagogue was complete and the building  became once again the magnificent edifice that had greeted throngs of worshippers 120 years earlier. The restoration was the recipient of major awards and honors, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2008 Preservation Honor Award, Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America Restoration Award, Municipal Art Society’s Masterwork Award for New York City’s Best Restoration Project, New York Landmarks Conservancy Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award, Preservation League of New York’s Restoration Award, The New Yorker’s Architecture’s Ten Best of 2008, and New York Magazine 2008 Top Ten Designs.

Today, the Museum at Eldridge Street, the successor to the Eldridge Street Project, remains committed to using this building to teach about Lower East Side history, immigration and issues of preservation and restoration.

Discussion Questions
  • What is the difference between a restoration and a renovation or recreation?
  • What makes a building worth preserving?
  • Is it important to preserve places? Why or why not?
  • What qualities distinguish the highly acclaimed restoration of the Eldridge Street Synagogue?
  • What places do you like to visit? Do you anticipate wanting to visit them 10 years from now?  How about in 20 years or even 50 years? Would you want your grandchildren or great grandchildren to be able to visit that place in 100 years? Why or why not?

Classroom Extensions

  • Each year the National Trust for Historic Preservation designates America’s 11 most endangered places. Look at the list and discuss as a class what makes a place “endangered.”  Do they think that this group belongs on the list? Are there other places they would like to see there?

Bimah

In Jewish Life on February 23, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Bimah. Walnut and metal. Museum at Eldridge Street.

About

This wooden structure is called a bimah, the Hebrew word for stage or elevated platform.  In a Synagogue, the bimah is the platform from which the sacred Torah scroll is read aloud during a service.  This bimah at Eldridge Street also serves as extra storage. Notice the metal lock affixed to the wood to ensure the safety of the ritual items stored within.

At the Eldridge Street Synagogue, the bimah is located in the center of the sanctuary.  The central location reflects the historic placement of the altar in the Second Temple.  By the mid to late 19th century however, it was more common for congregations in America and Western Europe to place the bimah in the front of the synagogue. Influenced by the Protestant custom of installing reading platforms in the front of the church, many Jewish congregations were motivated to do the same.   There were also practical reasons behind the bimah’s location.  Jewish congregations often bought churches, converted the building into a synagogue and simply left the reading platform in its original spot up front. By placing the bimah in the center, the leaders at Eldridge Street Synagogue made a conscious choice to preserve their own traditions.  They also wanted to ensure that everyone, regardless of the location of his/her seat, would be able to hear the reading.  In this way, placing the bimah in the center was also a democratic choice. Now the Torah reading was as accessible to the peddler sitting in the back of the sanctuary as it was to the wealthy merchant seating in the front.

Discussion Questions

  • Where have you heard someone speak or read from an elevated platform?  What were they reading? Why do you think they chose to read from a platform instead of from the floor?

Classroom Extensions

  • Have students take on the role of an architecture firm designing a sanctuary for a synagogue.  The congregational leaders can’t decide if they should place the bimah in the front or middle of the sanctuary. Have the students debate the placement of the ark within in the floor plan they are developing and present the pros and cons of each choice.
  • Compare and contrast speaking from a platform with speaking from the floor, as well as speaking in the front of a crowd versus from their midst. Have students recite a speech while standing first on a platform in the front of the classroom and second in their midst. Follow this exercise by having students speak in both location from the floor. Discuss the experience from the vantage point of both speaker and audience. Explore how the speeches compared when the placement of the speaker shifted.

Tzedakah Box

In Jewish Life on February 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm
Tzedakah Box. Iron and Gold Paint. Photo by Ed Cheng.
Museum at Eldridge Street.

About

Tzedakah is a Hebrew word commonly translated as charity, however the word is more closely connected to the English word justice. Tzedakah refers to a Jewish obligation to contribute to the creation of a just world. It is important to note that tzedakah is not only money, but refers to any act that creates a more just world. Giving tzedakah is so important that is considered one of  three acts – along with repentance and prayer – that can save a person from death.

The iron tzedakah box pictured above was installed within the wall at the Eldridge Street Synagogue.  Its unique 6-slotted design allows us to explore how people gave tzedakah in the late 19th century. The choice of six slots for coins or dollar bills correlates to the six days of the week an Orthodox Jew can give money, since handling money is forbidden on the Sabbath. Each slot also represents six different charities. Listed in Hebrew on the boxes from left to right, they are explained below:

i. Rabbi Meir Ba’al HaNes: Supports the poor of Palestine (today Israel). Giving to this charity is rumored to help you find lost objects.
ii. Tzedakah Gedolah: Supports a group of local Jewish charities.
iii. Tikkun Seforim:  Supports the repair and care of Jewish books.
iv. Yeshivas Eitz Hayyim:  Supports a Jewish religious school located on the Lower East Side.  Over time, this institution grew into the modern day institution Yeshiva University.
v. Hazkaras Neshomos:  Supports the upkeep of cemeteries.
vi. Bedek Haboyis: Supports the building maintenance of the synagogue.

Discussion Questions

  • What does charity mean to you?
  • What could we learn about the congregants of the Eldridge Street Synagogue based on the six organizations they  supported?
  • If you only had one dollar, which of the causes included in the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s Tzedakah Box would you donate your money to? Why?
  • The Jewish concept of charity includes acts that contribute to a just world.  What are some other ways to help someone in need aside from financial assistance?

Classroom Extensions

  • Have students create their own tzedakah box for their school or classroom. Students should decide on six causes they are interested in supporting.  This activity can be purely theoretical or can be followed with an actually collection drive. If money is collected, students should track which charities are most and least popular and consider what that says about their community.