Jewish Cultural Quarter

The Jewish Cultural Quarter consists of the Jewish Historical Museum, the JHM Children’s Museum, the Portuguese Synagogue, the Hollandsche Schouwburg, and the National Holocaust Museum.

The Jewish Cultural Quarter invites its visitors to acquaint themselves with Jewish culture and history, to deepen their existing knowledge, and to think actively about the subject of cultural diversity. The basic principle is to make the Jewish story accessible in a positive way to as much of the general public as possible.

Tel Aviv Museum of Art

While established in 1932, The Tel Aviv Museum of Art was originally the home of Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor. In 1959, The Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art had officially opened. When the museum’s collections of modern and contemporary art began to outgrow the premises, planning for a new building began in 1963. Construction commenced in 1966 but stopped for two years due to a shortage of funds. The new museum moved to its current location on King Saul Avenue in 1971. An additional wing was built in 1999, allowing the Lola Beer Ebner Sculpture Garden to be created. The museum also contains “The Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Art Education Center”, which opened in 1988. The museum houses a comprehensive collection of classical and contemporary Israeli art, a sculpture garden, and a youth wing. In 2018, the museum set an all-time attendance record with 1,018,323 visitors, ranking 70th on the list of most visited art museums. In 2019, the museum’s ranking rose to 49th with 1,322,439 visitors. The Museum’s collection represents some of the leading artists of the first half of the 20th century and many of the major modern art movements in this period. This includes but is not limited to Fauvism, German Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Russian Constructivism, the De Stijl movement, and Surrealism. It additionally contains french art from the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists period to the School of Paris. These pieces include works of Chaim Soutine, key works by Pablo Picasso, Cubist paintings, sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz, and Surrealists works of Joan Miró.

A portion of the Museum displays Israeli Art history and its origins among local artists in the pre-state Zionist community during the early twentieth century. In 1989, the American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein created a giant two-panel mural specifically for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which is currently hung in the entrance foyer. The collection includes several masterpieces. Among them is the 1916 Friedericke Maria Beer Painting, painted by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt and Untitled Improvisation V. In 1914, the Russian master Wassily Kandinsky contributed to the painting as well. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, donated in 1950, includes 36 works by Abstract and Surrealist artists. These include pieces by Jackson Pollock, William Baziotes, Richard Pousette-Dart, and Surrealists works by Yves Tanguy, Roberto Matta, and André Masson. Sculptures are displayed in the entrance plaza and an internal sculpture garden. In addition to a permanent collection, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions of individual artists’ work and group shows curated around a common theme.

Museum at Eldridge Street

Initially opened in 1887, The Museum at Eldridge Street is located in the Eldridge Street Synagogue, a magnificent National Historic Landmark. Today it is one of the only remaining historical sights related to early eastern European migration to America. The Museum offers year-round tours, exhibitions, cultural events and educational programs; detailing Jewish immigrant life and its historical roots to New York.

Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy

The Lower East Side Conservancy, also known as The Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy (LESJC), is an educational and advocacy organization, created in 1998 to preserve the synagogues and cultural heritage of the Lower East Side, America’s most famous immigrant neighborhood, and present them to the public. Through the organization’s efforts, many have been designated as historic landmarks, and have been listed on New York State and National Registers. In 2000, the Conservancy assisted in designating a 32 – block area as a historic district.

Their mission is accomplished through quality touring programs, both private, public, and educational, which showcase the Lower East Side’s landmarks, history and people. As the only non-profit organization dedicated solely to the historic preservation of the Lower East Side’s sacred sites, the Conservancy has formed relationships with the leaders of all of the synagogues remaining in this iconic immigrant neighborhood.

In addition to the Lower East Side, the LESJC provides tours of other New York neighborhoods of Jewish importance, such as Jewish Harlem, the Upper West Side, and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The conservancy aimed to transform the old Beth Hamedrash Hagadol into a visitors center for the Lower East Side with educational programs and gallery space, but the building was destroyed in 2017 with a fire, and was torn down in 2019.

Congregation Shearith Israel

The Congregation Shearith Israel – often called The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue – is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. It was established in 1654 in New Amsterdam by Jews who arrived from Dutch Brazil. Until 1825, when Jewish immigrants from Germany established a congregation, it was the only Jewish congregation in New York City.

The Orthodox synagogue, which follows the Sephardic liturgy, is located on Central Park West at 70th Street, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The congregation has occupied its current Neoclassical building since 1897. 

The first group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews were twenty-three refugees from Dutch Brazil, who arrived in New Amsterdam in September 1654. After being initially rebuffed by anti-Semitic Director of New Netherland Peter Stuyvesant, Jews were given official permission to settle in the colony in 1655. This year marks the founding of the Congregation Shearith Israel. Although they were allowed to stay in New Amsterdam, they faced discrimination and were not given permission to worship in a public synagogue for some time (throughout the Dutch period and into the British). The Congregation did, however, make arrangements for a cemetery beginning in 1656.

It was not until 1730 that the Congregation was able to build a synagogue of its own; it was built on Mill Street (now William Street) in lower Manhattan. The Mill Street synagogue was said to have had access to a nearby spring which it used as a mikveh for ritual baths. Before 1730, as noted on a 1695 map of New York, the congregation worshipped in rented quarters on Beaver Street and subsequently on Mill Street. Since 1730 the Congregation has worshipped in five synagogue buildings; the current building was extensively refurbished in 1921.

As the American Reform Judaism made headway in the late 19th century, many rabbis critical of the Reform movement looked for ways to strengthen traditional synagogues. Shearith Israel, and its rabbi, Henry Pereira Mendes, were at the fore of these efforts. Rabbi Mendes cofounded the American Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in 1886, in order to train traditional rabbis. The school held its first classes at Shearith Israel. In JTS’ earliest days, it taught and researched rabbinics similarly as was done in traditional yeshivas, in contrast to the Reform Hebrew Union College.

Twelve years later, in 1896, Mendes was acting president of JTS. He promoted the formation of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (commonly known as the OU, the Orthodox Union). This synagogue umbrella group provided an alternative to the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

As JTS grew, it needed better financing and a full-time head. The seminary moved to its own building, and Mendes was replaced by Solomon Schechter. However, Schechter developed a less traditional approach, which became the basis for Conservative Judaism (called Masorti outside North America). Initially there was considerable cooperation between the Orthodox and Conservative groups but, over time, the divide became clearer.

Schechter formed the United Synagogue of America (now the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, or USCJ) to promote synagogue affiliation with his conservative ideology.

Shearith Israel remained aligned with the Orthodox tradition. It eventually repudiated its association with JTS. In a sense, Shearith Israel helped create three of the largest and most significant Jewish religious organizations in the United States: JTS, the OU, and USCJ. Shearith Israel remains a member only of the Orthodox Union.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

The deadliest disaster to strike New York until the 9/11 attacks, 90 years later, was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster. The Brown Building stands as a monument to the 146 Jewish and Italian immigrants killed by a massive fire and locked doors and is both a National Historic Landmark and a New York City Landmark.

Currently, The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition educates the public about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire through its ongoing projects, educational outreach, and its social media presence. It also supports the annual remembrance activities on the anniversary of the fire on March 25 and is in the works of establishing a permanent memorial for those who lost their lives on the site.

Congregation Ohab Zedek

Congregation Ohab Zedek, or OZ, as it is fondly known, is more than just a synagogue. Under the leadership of Rabbi Allen Schwartz, the Shul is known for its open doors and big heart. OZ has broad ties with the surrounding Jewish community and its Upper West Side neighborhood as a whole. A random visitor could easily encounter an up and coming scholar from Israel, or members of the local fire station. It is an informal, comfortable, inclusive community.

OZ is a modern Orthodox congregation, but any individual is welcome, regardless of background or means. It is a Shul of interlocking communities–young families who find a relaxed setting on Shabbos morning to introduce their toddlers to services; singles, who famously crowd the steps on Friday night; and seniors, many of whom have been members of OZ for decades. It is home to those tentatively exploring Judaism as well as the most learned, who are stimulated by a broad array of lecturers and classes.

North African Jewish Heritage Center

The David Amar Worldwide North Africa Jewish Heritage Center is a cultural hub and museum in Jerusalem, Israel. Established in 1865, it is located in the heart of the Mahane Israel (also Mahaneh Yisrael) neighborhood. Built in the mid-19th century by David ben Shimon, founder of the North African Jewish community in Jerusalem, the North African Jewish Heritage Center is housed in the quarter’s oldest building. The museum contains permanent and temporary exhibits, focusing on the history and heritage of the Jewish communities of North Africa, particularly in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The restoration was funded by the Casablanca, a Morocco-based businessman, David Amar, and was renamed in his honor. Construction was completed within four years and required Moroccan craftsmen to create the intricate zellige mosaic tile work. However, it was considered quite controversial to reconstruct the building in an authentic Moroccan style. Some saw it as “importing foreign architecture and damaging a historic building”, although it is expected to become one of Jerusalem’s top tourist sites. It opened in June 2011 in the presence of President Shimon Peres and former President Yitzhak Navon. Photo Attribution: Heritage Conservation Jerusalem Pikiwiki Israel, CC BY 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons

Hertzl Museum

The Herzl Museum is located in Jerusalem and focuses on the visions and ideologies of Theodor Herzl. Shortly after Herzl’s death, the Anglo–Palestine Bank acquired about 2,000 dunams (2.0 km2) in south-central Palestine, where the Hulda Forest is located today. This forest was intended to house a farm and a large building that would contain the farm’s management and double as a museum dedicated to Herzl. However, the museum was unfortunately never executed, and only in the 1960s was a museum built on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. This included exhibits on Herzl’s life, including a reproduction of his study in Vienna. In 2000, it closed due to poor maintenance, but reopened in 2005, sitting at the main entrance plaza to Mount Herzl, following the centenary of Herzl’s death.

Shrine of the Book

The Shrine of the Book is a wing in the Israel Museum near Givat Ram in Jerusalem. It houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 11 caves in and around the Wadi Qumran in 1947–1956. The shrine was initially intended to be built on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University, adjoining the National Library. An elaborate seven-year plan led to the building’s construction in 1965, funded by the family of David Samuel Gottesman, the Hungarian émigré and philanthropist, who had purchased the scrolls as a gift to the State of Israel.

One of the architects, the pragmatic Armand Phillip Bartos (1910–2005) was evidently chosen based on his being married to Gottesman’s daughter Celeste Ruth Gottesman (who formerly had married Jerome John Altman in 1935 and divorced). For the other appointed architect, the eccentric visionary Frederick John Kiesler (1890–1965) Gottesman had earlier funded a fact-finding project to discover if Kiesler’s “Endless House” could be installed at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The architectural team also included Gezer Heller, who went on to build many important structures in the new State of Israel. He married Alice Hammer, sister of Ibbi Hammer, the woman who became the chief banker of the State of Israel. She was the daughter of the Chief Rabbi of Budapest.Initially, Israeli architects strongly objected to non-Israeli architects’ having been chosen through nepotism and to Kiesler’s having never completed his architectural studies in Vienna and Berlin (though licensed as an architect in New York) and having never built anything. He was primarily an avant-garde stage designer who taught occasionally. Nevertheless, the American-Jewish architects had been chosen by Gottesman as early as 1955.The shrine is built as a white dome, covering a structure placed two-thirds below the ground, that is reflected in a pool of water that surrounds it. Across from the white dome is a black basalt wall. The colors and shapes of the building are based on the imagery of the Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness; the white dome symbolizes the Sons of Light and the black wall symbolizes the Sons of Darkness.As the fragility of the scrolls makes it impossible to display all on a continuous basis, a system of rotation is used. After a scroll has been exhibited for 3–6 months, it is removed from its showcase and placed temporarily in a special storeroom, where it “rests” from exposure.The museum also holds other rare ancient manuscripts and displays The Aleppo Codex. Its dome, due to the unusual architecture, has been used as scenery for several science fiction movies.