New York, NY – Throughout the city, houses of worship built in the last century for Jewish immigrants from Europe are now home to congregations with roots in Latin America, the Caribbean or the American South.
The traces of past Jewish life in Brownsville, Brooklyn, are a little less evident at first glance. A half century has erased pretty much any clue that 375 Bristol Street used to be a synagogue. Remade in yellow brick face on the outside and white drywall on the inside, it is now home to Little Rock Baptist Church.
Despite the lack of Jewish symbols on some of the old buildings, Ann-Isabel Friedman, who directs the conservancy’s sacred sites program, can read them like a book. In one former synagogue, on Chester Street in Brooklyn, she pointed out how the towers flanking the central door encased stairs to the women’s balcony. In another, she saw how a plywood-covered recess hid an old skylight.
She stood before one former synagogue in Brownsville and noted how the details were exactly like those found on modest houses of worship on the Lower East Side.
“What you see here is the vernacular synagogue style from the 1920s,” she said. “They took the Lower East Side synagogue and brought it to their new neighborhood in Brooklyn.”
She admitted that they would not be able to get much help for those old buildings that had obliterated past architectural details. Nor might they be able to do much for some once grand structures that have fallen into severe disrepair, like St. Timothy Holy Church, which occupies what used to be the Amboy Street Shul in Brownsville, Brooklyn
Past the marble walls, where the Hebrew script is partly obscured by Caribbean flags from the island homelands of its current occupants. [NYtimes]