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Angel Orensanz Center

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Title: Angel Orensanz Center  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of the oldest synagogues in the United States, Congregation Ohab Zedek, Lower East Side, Blackoutsabbath, Live from the Artists Den
Collection: 1849 Establishments in New York, 19Th-Century Synagogues, Art Galleries in Manhattan, Dutch-Jewish Culture in the United States, German-Jewish Culture in New York City, Gothic Revival Architecture in New York, Gothic Revival Synagogues, Lower East Side, Music Venues in Manhattan, Orthodox Synagogues in New York City, Polish-Jewish Culture in New York, Polish-Jewish Culture in the United States, Reform Synagogues in New York City, Religious Buildings Completed in 1849, Synagogues in Manhattan
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Angel Orensanz Center

The Angel Orensanz Center;
the Shul of New York
Basic information
Location 172 Norfolk Street (between Stanton Street and East Houston Street on the Lower East Side), New York, NY 10002
Affiliation Judaism
State New York
Year consecrated 1850
Status Active
Heritage designation Designated an historic landmark by New York City in 1987
  • Al Orensanz (Director of the Foundation)
  • Rabbi Burt Siegal (leader/founder of the Shul of New York)
Architectural description
Architect(s) Alexander Saeltzer
Architectural style Gothic Revival
Completed 1849
Capacity 1,500
Length 90 feet
Width 70 feet
Materials The tripartite front facade is brick, covered with stucco.

The Angel Orensanz Center (originally Anshe Chesed Synagogue; also formerly known as the Norfolk Street Congregation and Anshe Slonim Synagogue) is located at 172 Norfolk Street (between Stanton Street and East Houston Street) in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York.[1] It is housed in a Gothic Revival synagogue, built in 1849 for Congregation Ansche Chesed (People of Kindness).[2][3][4]

It is the oldest surviving synagogue building in New York City, and the fourth-oldest surviving synagogue building in the United States. It was the largest synagogue in the United States at the time of its construction, and is one of the few built in Gothic Revival style.

The synagogue was built by Reform Congregation Ansche Chesed (People of Kindness), a congregation of primarily German Jews that was the third Jewish congregation in New York City. The building was designed by Eisenach/Germany-born architect Alexander Saeltzer. It was sold to Congregation Shaari Rachmim (Gates of Mercy) in 1873, to The First Hungarian Congregation Ohab Zedek (To Love Righteousness) in 1886, and to congregation Sheveth Achim Anshe Slonim in 1921, which used it until 1974. That year, the synagogue was abandoned, and it was later vandalized.

Spanish sculptor and painter Angel Orensanz purchased the property in 1986. He restored it, and converted it into an art gallery and performance space known as the Angel Orensanz Foundation Center for the Arts. The building was designated a historic landmark by New York City the following year. It has subsequently become home to the Shul of New York, a liberal Reform synagogue.[5]


  • History 1
    • Early history 1.1
    • Recent history 1.2
  • Structure 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Early history

The synagogue was built by Congregation Ansche Chesed (People of Kindness). Formed in 1825, Congregation Ansche Chesed consisted primarily of German Jews, as well as Dutch Jews and Polish Jews. They were mostly recent immigrants.[1] It was the third Jewish congregation in New York City, after Shearith Israel (1655; from which the members of Congregation Ansche Chesed broke away) and B'nai Jeshurun (1825).[1][3]

Congregation Achsche Chesed purchased the three lots upon which the synagogue was built, at 172 Norfolk Street (between Stanton Street and East Houston Street), on the Lower East Side of New York City, New York, in April 1849, for $10,500 (today $298,000).[1] The lots had originally been part of Peter Stuyvesant's estate.[1]

The synagogue building was designed by Eisenach-born architect Alexander Saeltzer, who was engaged in February 1849. Saeltzer also later designed the original Astor Library (now The Public Theater) in 1851, and the Academy of Music on Astor Place in 1854.[1][3][6][7] The synagogue's Gothic Revival style was inspired by the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, and Friedrichwerdesche Kirche in Berlin.[3][8] According to a 1987 report by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, while Gothic architecture is closely associated with Christianity, it had also become popular with synagogues as Jewish congregations had taken over old church buildings and become accustomed to the style, and viewed it as just as appropriate as any other architectural style.[1]

The building opened in 1849 as Anshe Chesed Synagogue, and was also known as the Norfolk Street Congregation.[9] The synagogue was formally opened and consecrated on May 16, 1850, with New York City's mayor and a number of members of the New York City Common Council and Christian clergy among the invited guests.[1] It was the largest synagogue in the United States, and could hold up to 1,500 worshipers (with men on the main floor, and women in the gallery).[1][10] It was the first German-Jewish synagogue in New York, and the second Reform synagogue after Congregation Emanu-El (1845).

Its members were traditional in their beliefs, and the congregation was "moderately traditionalist."[1][3][6] Services were conducted primarily in pews were introduced, with men and women sitting together.[1][3] A choir of men and women was also introduced.[1] In the 1850s, it had the largest membership of any synagogue in the United States.[1] Munich-born Dr. Max Lilienthal was the first rabbi at the new synagogue.[1] Dr. Jonah Bondy became the synagogue's rabbi in 1858.[1]

In 1874, Congregation Ansche Chesed merged with Congregation Adas Jeshurun and re-located uptown to Lexington Avenue and East 63rd Street, and formed Congregation Beth El. That congregation subsequently merged into Congregation Emanu-El, in 1927.[1][3][10] The synagogue was later used by Eastern European Orthodox Jewish congregations, which in keeping with Orthodox practice removed the organ, turned the pulpit so that it faced East, and conducted the services in Hebrew.[3] It was first sold to Congregation Shaari Rachmim (Gates of Mercy) in 1873, which used it until 1886.[1][3][3][10] Then, as Shaari Rachim moved to New York City's Upper West Side, the synagogue was sold to The First Hungarian Congregation Ohab Zedek (To Love Righteousness) in 1886, which used it as its home until 1921.[1][3] A congregation named Sheveth Achim Anshe Slonim (People of Slonim, Belarus; founded in 1888), worshiped there from 1921 until 1974, and called it Anshe Slonim Synagogue.[10][11][12] By 1974, membership in the synagogue had dwindled as the neighborhood changed and the Slonim community had dispersed.[1] The synagogue was abandoned, and was being vandalized.[1][3][13]

Recent history

Jewish Spanish sculptor and painter Angel Orensanz purchased the property in 1986. He restored it, and converted it into an art gallery and performance space, the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts.[3][14][15] The building was designated an historic landmark by New York City in 1987.[1][3][16][17]

The Shul of New York, a liberal Reform synagogue organized in 1997 that is led by Rabbi Burt Siegel and whose services are accompanied by the Shul Band, originally held its Sabbath services at the synagogue, and now holds its Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services there.[13][16][18] It is the oldest standing synagogue in New York City.[1][19]

Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick were married there, in 1997.[10][20] Mandy Patinkin's Mamaloshen was also performed there, and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, poet Maya Angelou, playwright Arthur Miller, actress Tyne Daly, composer Philip Glass, and singers Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey have performed there.[7][10][15] It was also the venue for the live recording of MTV Unplugged: A Live Album by singer Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine. Taking Back Sunday's live acoustic album 'Live From Orensanz' was also recorded here.


Interior of the Angel Orensanz Center

The building's interior resembles that of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris.[6] The sanctuary was designed to resemble the Sistine Chapel.[13]

The building is 70 feet (21 m) wide, and 90 feet (27 m) deep. It has a main space of 7,000 square feet (and an assembly room of 4,000 square feet), and 50-foot (15 m) high cathedral blue ceilings.[1][7] It has pointed arch tall lancet windows (originally surrounded by trefoil tracery and moldings) and doorways (surrounded by parts of moldings showing engaged columns and foliate capitals).[1][6] Its larger center door is crowned by triangular molding that is almost as high as the second floor, which contains a Magen David with thin pinnacles on either side.[1] It also has interior wooden vaults, and several tiers of balconies (one of the top ones of which contains a permanent studio of Angel Orensanz).[1][6] It has a tripartite front facade of red stone brick, covered with stucco, framed at its top by a pointed gable.[1][6] Originally, the building was three stories high and topped by concave pyramidal roofs with finials atop them, but today it is two stories high and topped by buttressed, clearly differentiated side square towers on either side of the center section.[1] The towers were an unusual feature at the time they were built, containing articulated stairwells to the galleries.[1] Its original ceiling was deep blue, with gold stars.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Virginia Kurshan (February 10, 1987). "Anshe Slonim Synagogue (original Anshe Chesed Synagogue), 172–176 Norfolk Street, Borough of Manhattan. Built 1849–1850; architect Alexander Saeltzer; Landmark Site: Tax Map Block 355, Lot 41". Landmarks Preservation Commission. Retrieved October 12, 2011. 
  2. ^ Jenna Weissman Joselit (September 2008). "History: The Symbol that Split the Synagogue". Reform Judaism Magazine. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Joyce Mendelsohn (2009). The Lower East Side remembered and revisited: A history and guide to a legendary New York neighborhood. Columbia University Press.  
  4. ^ Fodor's (2002). Fodor's 2003 New York City. Fodor's Travel Publications.  
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ a b c d e f Carly Berwick (December 19, 1999). "Lower East Side; A Synagogue's Artistic Route to a Rebirth". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c Robert Kahn (2002). New York City. New York Review of Books.  
  8. ^ Fodor's 2003 New York City. Fodor's Travel Publications. 2002. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Union of Two Congregations". The New York Times. December 28, 1873. Retrieved October 12, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f David W. Dunlap (2004). From Abyssinian to Zion: a guide to Manhattan's houses of worship. Columbia University Press. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  11. ^ David W. Dunlap (February 18, 1987). "New Life is Envisioned for Historic Synagogue". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ a b c d Al Orensanz (2005). "From Anshe Chesed to Angel Orensanz; 156 Years at 172 Norfolk Street". Angel Orensanz Foundation. Retrieved October 11, 2011. 
  14. ^ Appleton, Kate (December 20, 2007). "A Tour of Jewish Landmarks on the Lower East Side – Visitor's Guide". New York Magazine. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  15. ^ a b Gerard R. Wolfe (2003). New York, 15 walking tours: an architectural guide to the metropolis. McGraw-Hill. Retrieved October 12, 2011. 
  16. ^ a b "Shul Locations". Retrieved October 12, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Anshe Slonim Synagogue (originally Anshe Chesed Synagogue)". Retrieved October 11, 2011. 
  18. ^ "About the Shul". Retrieved October 12, 2011. 
  19. ^ Sipher, Devan (September 14, 2007). "Torah, Wine and ... Electric Mandolin". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  20. ^ Rush, George (May 21, 1997). "Vows of Silence: Shhh! Sarah and Matthew Tie the Knot". New York Daily News. Retrieved October 12, 2011. 

External links

  • Orensanz Facebook page
  • Angel Orensanz Foundation on Atlas Obscura

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