The strong German Jewish community of the Lower East Side in 19th century New York wanted a synagogue that reflected the stunning architecture happening with the German Reform movement in Berlin, so they enlisted Berlin architect Alexander Saeltzer to build a place of worship that would rival the Cologne Cathedral.
Constructed in 1849, the synagogue had seating for 1,500, over 50-foot-high ceilings, and a main space with 7,000 square feet. It was the largest synagogue in the country at the time. However, after World War II the Jewish population in the neighborhood dropped off, and the synagogue closed in the 20th century.
It is likely the gorgeous building would have been demolished if not for Jewish Spanish sculptor Angel Orensanz who converted it into a studio and gallery space in 1986. It’s now the oldest surviving synagogue in New York City, and the Angel Orensanz Foundation regularly hosts art exhibitions and events, including concerts from the likes of Philip Glass and Lou Reed, and even hosted the first fashion show in the United States from Alexander McQueen. Recently, it’s also become home to the annual Women’s Travel Festival, a great way to spend a nice long time inside admiring its splendor.
It maintains its original architecture, although made into an almost ethereal place through its colorful lights and suspended illumination in the main hall.
Know Before You Go
Visits are by appointment only, so be sure to call first.