(ISJM) The on-again and off-again plans to demolish the tiny and lovely Congregation Meseritz Synagogue (Adas Yisroel Ansche Meseritz) at
The developer is 23-year-old Joshua Kushner, whose family owns the New York Observer newspaper. Kushner will pay the congregation $725,000 to create ten apartments on the top four floors of an entirely new building, and will cede space for a new synagogue on the lowest levels. Critics of the plan have said that a similar (but more costly) arrangement could be done made which would save the shul’s Neo-classical façade, renovate the basement level beth-midrash (which is used daily for prayer) and restore the sanctuary, while allowing new apartments to built above, and slight set back form the façade. Because the building is not listed as a NYC Landmark, there will be few opportunities for project review. Some local residents who pray at the synagogue have claimed that membership has been denied to newcomers, allowing a small group of older members to determine the fate of the building. Though proponents argue that the building must be sacrificed to save the congregation, critics say without the old building the small congregration may done dwindle away.
As early as 1978 the small shul was singled out as a “gem” by Gerald R. Wolfe in his now-classic book The Synagogues of New York’s Lower East Side. Wolfe wrote “Another small shul with a most attractive interior is the little-used Adas Yisroel Ansche Meseritch synagogue (Community of
Sanctuary photos by Vincent Giordano /ISJM
In the thirty years since, many Lower East Side Congregations, especially those in small synagogues like this, have closed their doors. Congregation Meseritz hung on, led by its rabbi, Pesach Ackerman. But these days with something of a Jewish cultural resurgence on the
Fearing demolition of Congregation Meseritz in 2006, ISJM commissioned photographer Vincent Giordano to photograph the interior. Rabbi Ackerman cooperated with this documentation project.
“Adas Yisroel Ansche Meseritz is named for the town of
As a neoclassical “tenement synagogue” the Meseritz Synagogue is an extremely rare (but excellent) survivor of its type. Today, it is probably the only operative neoclassical “tenement synagogue” in the
The historic interior of the Meseritz Synagogue is remarkably intact. Inside, the construction materials are typical of working-class buildings of the era: plaster walls, pressed tin ceilings, and polychrome “nickel” tile floors. Two skylights provide natural light, which is enhanced by several simple, but handsome stained glass windows. The original women’s gallery remains intact.
The sanctuary is dominated by the original two-story Ark, with High Victorian Gothic details mingled with neo-classical forms – plus a few Eastern European features such as miniature onion domes…Similar details are reflected in other sanctuary furnishings such as the pews.
There are a few other examples of Gothic style having been intentionally used in synagogue design. The most noted perhaps was the original Anshe Chesed at
In the case of Congregation Meseritz, a major reason for Gothic accouterments in the main sanctuary probably lies in something more practical. Most of the local woodworkers were German Christians and using standard church furnishings was probably less expensive. Likewise, since so many of the earlier synagogues have the Lower East Side had formerly been Christian churches, the use of Gothic-styled furnishings in synagogues had become relatively acceptable.”
Beth Midrash photos by Vincent Giordano / ISJM
In the half-basement level is the Beth Midrash (study house), also used as a daily synagogue. It is in this space the prayers of the congregation are heard on a regular basis, and it is also where the Rabbi and members of the congregation are often likely to be found.