Sunday, September 8, 2019

Museum at Eldridge Street Features Exhibition on Jews in China through October 4th - Special Lecture September 12th

Museum at Eldridge Street (aka Eldridge Street Synagogue)
Built from 1886-1887
Architects: Peter and Francis Herter
Photo: Courtesy of the Museum at Eldridge Street

The world's populations have been in flux for millennia, but now, it seems, more than even, concerns about migration and immigration dominate the news every day. The planet may be in crisis and immigration may be among the symptoms that point to the urgency of the situation. Wars, crime, slavery, pogroms, economic opportunity, and climate change have been the major forces driving people to move to different lands. In most cases, there is a need to escape hardship and find a better life.  

View of the main sanctuary from the Women's Gallery
Photo: Beth S. Gersh-Nesic

The Museum at Eldridge Street regards its existence as a chapter in the New York immigrant experience. The museum is a 19th century synagogue built by a Jewish Russian population living on the Lower East Side. It was completed for this Orthodox congregation called Kahal Adath Jeshurun in 1887 to serve this mainly Eastern European (Ashkenazi) tradition of Judaism.  The Museum at Eldridge Street is the only Jewish synagogue open to the public as a place to educate and share multicultural programming. To access an introduction to the Museum of Eldridge Street, visit their website which explains the building's restoration (rededicated in 2007) and their permanent collection.

Main Sanctuary viewed from the Women's Gallery.
Rose stained-glass window by Kiki Smith, installed in 2010
Photo: Beth S. Gersh-Nesic

The museum's mission states. we  . . . 
  • Welcome people of all faiths and cultures.
  • Teach and reinforce tolerance.
  • Believe diversity is our strength.
  • Believe openness and exchange makes us stronger.

View of the stained glass window in the ceiling
Photo: Beth S. Gersh-Nesic

For more information about the museum's mission, please read this interview with the museum's wonderful archivist and curator Nancy Johnson. Since the fall of 2016, she has either organized or overseen the exhibitions and programs for The Michael Weinstein Art Gallery within the museum. Her exhibitions have made a significant contribution to this burgeoning arts community.  Please subscribe to their email blasts for news about their active schedule of programs, such as the ones listed below.

Photo: Courtesy of the Museum at Eldridge Street

Today, the Museum at Eldridge Street stands among the bustling streets of Chinatown and the exploding Lower East Side (LES) gallery scene stretching in all directions around the New Museum on the Bowery.  Located at 12 Eldridge Street, the museum is a mere hop, skip and jump away from the magnificent Manhattan Bridge.  From there, myriads of diverse ethnic adventures beckon - cafés, restaurants, boutiques, and food markets galore.

Street Performance during "Egg Rolls, Egg Creams and Empanadas"
Photo: Courtesy of the Museum of Eldridge Street

With this in mind, the museum offers the annual June event  "Egg Rolls, Egg Creams and Empanadas," an exciting day of art, dance, street performances, and music - lots of music.  This year's celebration was especially memorable because Harbin, China: Past/Presentan exhibition about Jews living in Harbin, China, filled the museum's beautiful Weinstein Art Gallery.  

Harbin alone deserves a long, relaxed visit, before or after a tour of the synagogue.  Richly detailed in its educational presentation, Nancy Johnson has curated an excellent combination of photographs, text panels, and narratives about a few Russian emigrés who settled in Harbin and raised their families. The history of Jews living in Harbin begins in the late 1890s and ends in the 1960s.  

Steven Lane, Installation on the Women's Gallery

The Harbin exhibition includes a contemporary art component produced by the New York artist Steven Lane, who works in Harbin during the summer, when he is not teaching at Keio Academy of New York, a Japanese-American high school located in Purchase, New York.  Photographs of Lane's work in Harbin as well as his prints and glorious installation in the Women's Gallery ably connect Harbin of the past to the present, hence the title of the show.

Steven Lane's installation in the Women's Gallery

The history of the Jews settling in Harbin, previously a cluster of villages in Manchuria, begins with the Russian invasion of Manchuria and the subsequent Russo-Manchuria Treaty of 1897.  Then Jews immigrated to Harbin to build the Chinese Eastern Railway. The whole enterprise created a modern urban oasis of freedom for Russian Jews who were extremely restricted and unwelcome in their homeland. By 1903, 500 Jews lived in Harbin. By 1908, there were 8,000. For more information online, please read Dr. Irena Vladimirsky's article "The Jews of Harbin, China,"

Tours of the Museum at Eldridge Street, a typical Moorish Revival style synagogue inspired by mid-19th century synagogues in Europe, like Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, are available during the days the museum is open.  Check out their website for details.

Harbin, China: Past/Present closes on Sunday, October 4th. 

Three important activities in September and October:
Thursday, September 12:
Artist's Tour of the Exhibition: Steven Lane, at 5:45 PM.
"Jewish Lives in China," at 6:30 PM.
Lectures by Professor Jim Ross, Department of Journalism, Northeastern University; Irene Clurman, a journalist from Colorado, who maintains a website on Harbin; and Varda Yoran, born in China in 1929 of parents who emigrated from Russia.
Details and tickets available on the museum's website.

Wednesday, September 18, 6:30 PM:
"EastRiver Ensemble Concert," a mixture of Chinese and other kinds of music.
Tickets are available here.

Sunday, October 6, 10:45--1:30 PM:
"Shuls of Grandeur: A Tour of Bialystoker Synagogue and  Eldridge Street Synagogue.
Meeting at Bialystoker Synagogue.  Tickets available on this website.

Best wishes and enjoy this glorious weather!

Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
Director and owner
New York Arts Exchange
Twitter: @BethNewYork