Upper East Side

Central Synagogue

The Central Synagogue (Congregation Ahawath Chesed Shaar Hashomayim) is located at 652 Lexington Avenue on the corner of East 55th Street in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. It was built in 1870-72 and was designed by Henry Fernbach in the Moorish Revival style as a copy of Budapest's Dohány Street Synagogue. It has been in continuous use by a congregation longer than any other in the state of New York, and is among the oldest synagogue buildings still standing in the United States. The building was designated a New York City landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1966 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. It was then designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975. On Weds at 12:45 pm a docent conducts a free tour, which begins at the front entrance.The Ahawath Chesed congregation was founded in 1846 on Ludlow Street in Manhattan by German-speaking Jews from Bohemia. It merged in 1898 with Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, which was founded by German Jews in 1839 on Albany Street. The combined congregation bought the lot at Lexington Avenue and East 55th Street and engaged Henry Fernbach, the country's first prominent Jewish architect, to design it. The dramatic style of the building was the subject of much debate during the construction. Some felt its excess would inspire envy and stand in the way of assimilation. After a fire in 1886, the building was restored by Ely Jacques Kahn. The building was restored in the original style after an accidental fire in August 1998, which occurred just as a major renovation was being completed. The fire destroyed the roof and its supports. During the fire, the firefighters' sensitivity for the building saved all but the central pane in the rose window that dominates the eastern (Lexington Avenue) wall. Marble plaques on the north wall of the foyer honor the firefighters of the 8th Battalion of the New York City Fire Department. The restoration of the building was supervised by Hugh Hardy of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer. Hardy restored some details to the interior that Ely Jacques Kahn had removed in the earlier restoration in 1886. The recent restoration was completed on September 9, 2001. Although the brownstone exterior is 'the finest extant example of the Moorish Revival style in New York City', the plan of the interior is Gothic in nature. The exterior is dominated by two octagonal towers topped by globular domes, as well as by the rose window of geometric design. A small row of arches just below the cornice, at the roof line, adds to the richness of the facade. The north facade, on East 55th Street, features six stained-glass windows framed by Moorish arches. The interior is 'stenciled with rich blues, earthy reds, ocher, and gilt – Moorish, but distinctly 19th century american.'Sensitive to the evolving interests and needs of the Reform Judaism community, Central Synagogue explores both traditional and alternative modes of prayer. In addition to daily morning minyan, Shabbat, holiday services, and celebrations of lifecycle events, the synagogue offers 'Tot Shabbat' for children, and healing and community services.

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New York Lexikon