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Synagogue Safe Yields Ritual Riches

More than a dozen silver Torah scroll ornaments, revealed when professional safecrackers opened a huge safe in the basement of the once-flourishing Eldridge Street Synagogue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, may be kept for use by congregants when the 98-year-old synagogue is restored, Betty Sandler, secretary of the Eldridge Street Project, said today.

She told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that two appraisal experts from Sotheby’s and Christies, present when two of the four safes in the synagogue basement were drilled and hammered open last Thursday in a three-hour operation, had appraised the ritual objects as worth between $30,000 and $40,000 at auction but that the congregational board would decide on their disposition. Sandler added that the board, which meets regularly, would discuss the disposition of the objects shortly.

She listed the ritual objects found in the largest of four safes, which still had handles which were immoveable, as including a Torah crown with gold filigree; three pairs of Torah finials; four breast plates, with gold filigree; six pointers, two sterling silver, two gold and two ivory; a spice box; and a large brass Chanukah menorah.

The safes fell into disuse after the departure of Jews from the area and had not been opened for some 40 years.

The smaller of the two large safes was found to contain dozens of books. These included a 150-year-old Tractate from the Talmud, printed in Warsaw, and a book on the Zohar, published in Grodno.

RESTORATION PROJECT OF HISTORIC JEWISH AREA

Restoration of the synagogue was described as the centerpiece of the Eldridge Street Project created to develop and maintain a historic Jewish area and to explore and interpret the American Jewish experience on the Lower East Side.

The first year of the project in 1983-84 was focused on repairs to the synagogue building which was in imminent danger of collapse. The project received funds from the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; the United Jewish Appeal-Federation; the Landmark Conservancy; and a gift from the Lower East Side Merchants Association.

There is a Bet Medrash (house of study) in the basement, where services are conducted whenever a minyan of the required 10 men can be assembled. The upstairs sanctuary has been abandoned since the early 1930’s.

The Eldridge project has started a “Heritage Trail” on the Lower East Side, a walking tour of old structures known to be important and including those Jewish businesses and cultural institutions remaining on the Lower East Side.

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