Lower Manhattan Jewish Congregation Saves Religious Relic

A piece of the Mesertiz Shul’s ark, a religious relic which was saved by Tamid, The Downtown Synagogue. (Photo by Tequila Minsky via Downtown Express)

A piece of the Mesertiz Shul’s ark, a religious relic which was saved by Tamid, The Downtown Synagogue. (Photo by Tequila Minsky via Downtown Express)

A Jewish congregation in Lower Manhattan has saved a historic religious relic from a Lower East Side shul that is being converted into luxury condos, reports Tequila Minsky in the Downtown Express.

The two-story ark at the Mesertiz Shul that closed in April will be housed at Tamid, The Downtown Synagogue, a liberal and progressive congregation that conducts Friday night Sabbath services once a month at a church, St. Paul’s 9/11 Chapel.

The now closed Mesertiz Shul on E. 6th St., left. Hauling a piece of the ark, right. (Photo courtesy of Tamid via Downtown Express)

The now closed Mesertiz Shul on E. 6th St., left. Hauling a piece of the ark, right. (Photo courtesy of Tamid via Downtown Express)

The Lower East Side was home to about a half-million Jewish immigrants a century ago. About 350 synagogues — congregations in 70 discrete prayer spaces — dotted the neighborhoods south of 14th St.

Some of these spaces were called shtiebelekh or shtiebels, just one or two rooms set aside for prayers, others were grand buildings like Eldridge Street Synagogue.  In between were tenement shuls; synagogues  built within the property line, often, the size of a row house/brownstone — narrow and long — sandwiched between other buildings.

The 100-year-old ark, which housed the Torah, could have ended up in Demolition Depot had architect Jason Friedman not evaluated the shul at 415 E 6th St. for his firm, which is converting the space into condos. The Torah cabinet was built into an ornate oak wall carving of panels and other adornment. Friedman, who had attended High Holiday services at the Downtown Synagogue, called its founder Rabbi Darren Levine to find a new house for the ark.

The timing was perfect as Tamid was creating a new ark for its congregation. Salvo Stoch, hired by the congregation, evaluated and determined that the ark could be safely extracted and retrofitted for Tamid’s ark.

Tamid’s Rabbi Darren Levine and Sophie Stoch present the Torah recovered from the Mesertiz Shul at St. Paul’s Chapel. (Photo by Tequila Minsky via Downtown Express)

Tamid’s Rabbi Darren Levine and Sophie Stoch present the Torah recovered from the Mesertiz Shul at St. Paul’s Chapel. (Photo by Tequila Minsky via Downtown Express)

Climbing scaffolding in the dusty and paint-chip laden space, on Monday, April 28, Rabbi Levine and a small crew began the dismantling.

“It was put together with hammers and screws,” said the rabbi, “and that’s what we used. Each of the right and left panels took an hour to remove.”

During the two-day dismantling of the ark, Rabbi Levine discovered a Torah in the cabinet. It had received smoke and water damage in a fire 40 years before. The dismantled pieces of ark were carefully wrapped and transported to the Brooklyn Navy Yard before their permanent retrofitting at the ark’s permanent home at the downtown synagogue.

The two-story ark before it was taken apart and moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, above. (Photo by Tequila Minsky via Downtown Express )

The two-story ark before it was taken apart and moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, above. (Photo by Tequila Minsky via Downtown Express )

Feeling the need for a Jewish religious institution in Lower Manhattan, Rabbi Levine, who hopes to restore the Torah, started Tamid, Downtown, with about 55 other families a year ago.

“We have bi-monthly book discussions at Pushcart Café on E. Broadway,” Rabbi Levine notes, pointing out, “Do you know there is no liberal presence in the (below Houston) Lower East Side? And, there are a lot of young families moving into the area.”

The word Tamid means eternal, taken from “ner tamid” — the eternal light that hangs above the ark in the synagogue. In a year, the congregation has nearly doubled to 100 families.

“We are an easy on-ramp to participate,” said Rabbi Levine. “We’ve taken a lot of risks and experimented with new and fresh ideas.”

 

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