As the congregation grew and the city expanded northward, so did Congregation Shearith Israel, moving three times to new houses of worship. By the time the 19th Century was drawing to a close, the congregation had grown large and wealthy. The members selected a site at the corner of Central Park West and 70th Street for their next shul, where impressive buildings had begun rising. There they purchased five lots, costing $140,000.
|P. L. Sperr photographed the building on March 4, 1929 from the collection of the New York Public Library|
Arnold W. Brunner and Thomas Tryon were given the commission to design the new synagogue. Although fashion in Jewish religious architecture had tended to reflect Near Eastern styles – with onion domes and Moorish arches – the congregation wanted for something different.
Archeological excavations in Israel near the Sea of Galilee at the time had uncovered classical ruins of a Greco-Roman period synagogue. The discovery sparked interest in roots going further back than the Jews’ Moorish history. Arnold Brunner referred to it as the “sanction of antiquity.”
The architects produced a dramatic Roman temple, completed in 1897, with four gigantic Corinthian columns supporting a cornice and ambitious pediment. A grand flight of stone steps leads to the entrance. Congregation Shearith Israel had come a long way since 1654.
|photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
|photos via shearithisrael.org|
Over a century later, Congregation Shearith Israel continues its venerable history in New York in its monumental classical synagogue.