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Our History

The shul that stands at 180 Stanton Street is the first American home of Congregation Bnai Jacob Anshe Brzezan (“Sons of Jacob, People of Brzezan”). Incorporated in 1893, the community of Jewish immigrants from the town of Brzezan in Southeast Galicia, (formerly Austria-Hungary, then Poland, now the Ukraine), created their place of worship from an existing structure on the site in 1913, within a thriving Lower East Side Jewish community. The shul has since changed with the neighborhood, but has struggled to preserve its old country roots. Today, it is one of the few tenement shuls still left of the 700 congregations recorded in 1918 serving the Jews of the Lower East Side.

The building is typical of the tenement synagogues that once dotted the Lower East Side at the time it was built. The stone and brick structure is wedged into a tiny, narrow lot—only twenty feet wide and roughly 100 feet long. A three-story building, the synagogue houses the beis midrash (house of study) in the basement, where members daven during the week in daily prayer. It includes a raised reader’s platform, and a built-in ark for the torah scrolls at the north end. Rising above the room on either side are galleries for the women’s section, and a pressed-metal ceiling with two octagonal skylight domes. A series of 12 wall paintings of the months, with zodiac signs – said to be unique to the Lower East Side – date back at least to 1939.

In 1952, Anshei Brzezan merged with the joint congregation Bnai Joseph Dugel Macheneh Ephraim which represented two other towns from Poland, Rymanow and Bluzhower, a common practice at a time when the Jewish LES was shrinking so rapidly. Many of the shuls were also being displaced by the urban renewal projects taking place in lower Manhattan in the late 50s. The Stanton Street Shul, located in a Latino part of the Lower East Side, was one of only a few that survived.

The Stanton Street Synagogue survives today as a distinctive architectural, cultural and religious landmark of the Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jewish community of New York City’s Lower East Side, the most famous immigrant district in a city renowned for its immigrant history. The Shul’s unique mix embraces continuity between the older population of immigrants and long-time Lower East Side residents on the one hand, and younger singles and couples just starting families on the other. The survival of this small shul (one of approximately a dozen functioning synagogues in the neighborhood today) is not only a testament to the perseverance of its elderly, immigrant members, for whom it is a true home and living memorial to otherwise forgotten towns. It is also a symbol of the renewal of the Lower East Side as a neighborhood where younger Jews with their own traditions are now moving in and forming connections, reweaving the chain of generations so nearly unraveled in the turmoil of the twentieth century.

For more historical photos of the life of our shul, click here.

For the progress of our renovation of the shul, click here.

Fri, July 1 2022 2 Tammuz 5782