Today is Yom Kippur, so let’s take a look at some East Village buildings that are, or used to be, synagogues. Jewish immigrants to the East Village and Lower East Side were a significant segment of the population of these neighborhoods, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Sixth Street Community Center, 638 East 6th Street, between Avenue B & Avenue C
This architecturally interesting building once housed Congregation Ahawath Yeshurun Shara Torah. After many years of advocating and fundraising, and thanks to generous grants from Save the Children and other foundations, the local block association was able to purchase and renovate the abandoned structure, and in 1996 Sixth Street Community Center was born.
According to research done by GVSHP, the first record of this building comes from an alteration permit in 1869, indicating that the building was being used as an office. A decade later, the building was converted into a synagogue for the Congregation Ahawath Yeshurun Shara Torah. In 1900 in addition to other renovations, ritual baths were built in the basement. The building was used as a synagogue until the 1970’s.
Sixth Street Community Synagogue, 325 East 6th Street, between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue
The building that today houses the Sixth Street Community Synagogue was originally built by German immigrants in 1847 as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Matthew, and ten years later became German Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Mark. German immigrants in the mid-to-late 1800s dominated this area, known as “Kleindeutschland” or “Little Germany.”
On the morning of June 15, 1904 the steamship General Slocum was bringing a group of parishioners from Church of St. Mark to a picnic outing when it caught fire, and killed over 1,000 passengers. This disaster contributed to the German community leaving this neighborhood for the Upper East Side’s Yorkville. In 1940 the building became home to the Community Synagogue.
Congregation Mezritch, 415 East 6th Street, between 1st Avenue and Avenue A.
This neo-Classical two-story with basement building was constructed in 1910. It is located in the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District.
The present facade features some of the original decorations including significant ones like the round-arched windows with stained glass in the center of the top story flanked by two rectangular windows with round-arched transoms; the engaged stone pilasters with Corinthian capitals and carved stone keystones over doors and windows and the engraved plaques with name and dates of the building among other decorative features of the building. You can read more about this building here and here.
GVSHP led the fight to save this historic structure from demolition. Although current plans call for slight alteration and conversion of part of the building to residences, the basic structure will remain, and continue to house the synagogue.