Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pulled Into a Vortex

I wanted to see the famous glass window that Kiki Smith designed for the Eldridge Street Synagogue. There was a lot of publicity when she was awarded the commission, and even more when the window was installed in 2010. As it turned out, the Museum at Eldridge Street was a visceral experience of the  Ashkenazi Jewish immigrant experience on New York's Lower East Side (now Chinatown).

The window pulled me into its unexpected vortex.  Now I want to experience the sanctuary in the winter time at dusk when all the stained glass casts turquoise light.  Despite the need for the major renovation, of which the Smith window is the crowning piece, eighty-five percent of the stained glass is the original.

The ark once held twenty-four torahs and now is empty.  The carving on its doors and the surrounding lintels is majestic.

Our guide helped us imagine what it was like for working class families living in crowded tenements to step into this grandeur.  No wonder it was the social center of the community, the home away from home.  It was the custom for men not to wear a tallit (prayer shawl) until they were married.  That way the young women could spot the eligible bachelors from their perch in the women's balcony.  The women's balcony felt very intimate, and a wonderful vantage point.  Because of the way the bima (podium) was facing, the women had a better view of the unrolled torah, than the men who were on same level with it.

They left one wall showing how it was before the renovation.

Now a mixture of old and new...

Thank you Kiki Smith, for pulling me into the vortex.

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