Landmark of the Spirit


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The Eldridge Street Synagogue

Annie Polland; Foreword by Bill Moyers

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The first major history of the gloriously restored Eldridge Street Synagogue, the first synagogue in  the United States  built by east European Jews, has a seminal place in the history of American Jewry.

New York City’s magnificent Eldridge Street Synagogue was built in 1887 in response to the great wave of Jewish immigrants who fled persecution in eastern Europe. Finding their way to the Lower East Side, the new arrivals formed a vibrant Jewish community that flourished from the 1850s until the 1940s. Their synagogue served not only as a place of worship but also as a singularly important center in the development of American Judaism.

A near ruin in the 1980s that was recently reopened after a massive twenty-year restoration, the Eldridge Street Synagogue has been named a National Historic Landmark. But as Bill Moyers tells us in his foreword, the synagogue is also “a landmark of the spirit, . . . the spirit of a new nation committed to the old idea of liberty.”

Annie Polland uses elements of the building’s architecture—the façade, the benches, the grooves worn into the sanctuary floor—as points of departure to discuss themes, people, and trends at various moments in the synagogue’s history, particularly during its heyday from 1887 until the 1930s. Exploring the synagogue’s rich archives, the author shines new light on the religious life of immigrant Jews, introduces various rabbis, cantors and congregants, and analyzes the significance of this special building in the context of the larger American-Jewish experience.

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Annie Polland is vice president for education at the Museum at Eldridge Street, where she oversees the development of exhibits and curriculum and coordinates lecture series, and a visiting professor at the New School and at New York University.

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"Do stones speak? They do on Eldridge Street, through the words of Annie Polland's beautiful and important book."—Bill Moyers

"It is no mere building that is the focus of this book. The Eldridge Street Synagogue is a magnificent building, to be sure. . . . But this synagogue is a landmark of the spirit as well: the spirit of an ancient people on a new exodus and the spirit of a new nation committed to the old idea of liberty. Every synagogue is a means of keeping Jewish consciousness alive, but this one's mission of memory is unique in the world. Four-fifths of today's American Jews descend from the eastern European refugees who came in that exodus. The Eldridge Street Synagogue connects the generations one to another. It is also sacred ground to many of us who are not Jewish:  it is sacred to the very love of freedom that drew all our forbears here. . . . Do stones speak? They do on Eldridge Street. And through the words of Annie Polland's beautiful and important book, hear them: 'In remembrance is the secret of redemption.'"—Bill Moyers

“I can’t think of a better book about American Jewish history published in recent memory.”—Michael Alexander, associate professor of modern Jewry, University of California, Riverside, and author of Jazz Age Jews

“Far more than a history of one remarkable congregation, Landmark of the Spirit is an extraordinary examination of Jewish religious life on the Lower East Side over three-quarters of a century.”—Jeffrey S. Gurock, Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History, Yeshiva University


“A fascinating, lively history of the Eldridge Street Synagogue that takes the reader through the inner workings of the congregation and the physical structure of the building itself.”— Tony Michels, George L. Mosse Associate Professor of American Jewish History, University of Wisconsin, Madison

ISBN: 9780300124705
Publication Date: December 21, 2008
192 pages, 7 1/4 x 9 1/4
54 color illus