Jonathan Cohen

Jonathan Cohen

Posted on 07/01/2015

Photo taken on April 29, 2014

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Former Adath Jeshurun of Jassy Synagogue – Rivington Street near Eldridge, Lower East Side, New York, New York

Former Adath Jeshurun of Jassy Synagogue – Rivington Street near Eldridge, Lower East Side, New York, New York
This synagogue was built for the Adath Jeshurun of Jassy Congregation. The congregation served a community of Jews from the town of Iasi, Romania, a town that is best remembered as the birthplace of Yiddish theater (in a wine cellar where in 1876 Abraham Goldfaden persuaded a troupe of itinerant Yiddish folk singers to perform a play that he had written).

But I digress.

The building was designed in 1903 by Emery Roth (1871-1948), the eminent New York architect most famous for his large apartment houses such as the Ritz Hotel Tower. The synagogue is an early example of Emery Roth's penchant for highly original, eclectic compositions – masterfully incorporating design elements from various historic sources into one building. Dominating the central section of the tan-brick facade is an immense Byzantine-inspired arch inscribed with a Hebrew passage from Psalm 118:20 "This is the gate of the Lord, the righteous pass through it." It surmounts an oculus encircled by rosettes, that originally framed a large Star of David. Below the round window are carved tablets of the Ten Commandments within a rectangular panel. The original Tudor-style main entrance no longer survives, replaced by an iron security door. Flanking the central section are two square towers, recalling the architecture of the Italian Renaissance. In low relief, carved Lions of Judah – symbols of Jerusalem – peer from niches in the top section of each tower. They stand just above triangular pediments, inscribed on the left with the founding date of the congregation (1886) and on the right with the date the synagogue was begun (1903). The interior of the synagogue once featured two galleries in the sanctuary and an Ark with a Byzantine-style arch that echoed the synagogue's exterior.

The Jews from Jassy organized their congregation in New York in 1886. Opening day at the at their new synagogue on September 5, 1904 was celebrated by a grand procession beginning at the previous shul at 131 Hester with 2 bands and 30 horse-drawn open carriages carrying sacred Torah scrolls, a key made of solid gold, and honored members of the congregation. One thousand additional members followed on foot, joined by several thousand onlookers, marching under the watchful eyes of 300 policemen. After speeches on the steps of the new building and the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," services were conducted indoors, culminating in a rendition of "Home Sweet Home."

In 1912 a group of Polish Jews from Warsaw acquired the building and renamed it Erste Warshawer Synagogue. By the 1950s, after most members of the large congregation had left the neighborhood, services were moved from the sanctuary to the basement beis midrash (study hall). The synagogue that had once served as a house of worship for George and Ira Gershwin, Samuel Goldwyn and Jacob Javits was abandoned in the early 1970s, and volunteers barricaded the doors and windows to keep out squatters and to protect the structure from vandalism.

Hale Gurland, a painter, sculptor, and photographer whose work is in public and private collections around the world, purchased the building in 1979 and converted it into residential and studio space. By the removal of certain mullions, the figure in the rose window has been transformed from a Star of David into the overlapping leaves of a camera shutter. I just wish he could do something about that garage door!

William Sutherland has particularly liked this photo

William Sutherland
William Sutherland
Outstanding shot!

Admired in:
3 years ago.
Your beautiful capture was admired in Historical & Architectural Gems.
3 years ago.