BY TEQUILA MINSKY | The last tenement shul above East Houston St. is being converted into condos. But the heart of the shul, its two-story-tall ark, will be saved.
In what is being hailed as a true-life story of b’shert (destiny), Anshe Meseritz’s 100-year-old, hand-carved ark — the housing for the Torah scroll — was saved from some unknown future, perhaps Demolition Depot, when the new Downtown Jewish congregation Tamid made it its own.
Meseritz synagogue, at 415 E. Sixth St., between First Ave. and Avenue A, is an exterior landmark.
Rabbi Darren Levine, founder of Tamid, went to meet Pesach Ackerman, 85, the shul’s longtime rabbi, and his son, Sandy, who did not want the ark to be lost forever. (Rabbi Ackerman died this past Friday at age 84. See obituary, right).
Jason Friedman, an architect with the residential conversion project, upon seeing the stunning ark, felt it could be salvaged. Meanwhile, Tamid member Salvo Stoch — who runs Found Objects, a company that travels the world finding unique furniture and gallery items — visited Meseritz and evaluated the ark. He determined it could be safely extracted, stored properly and retrofitted for use as Tamid’s own ark. And so it is.
The ark, which was disassembled into 30 pieces, is currently being kept in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The hope is that once the new synagogue gets a permanent space, the full ark will be incorporated into it.
Said Levine, “It’s not every day in New York that a new synagogue like Tamid opens in the same year that a historic one closes.”
Levine sees this whole process as giving new life to Jewish ancient tradition, of Tamid’s being a historical caretaker while creating new Jewish roots in the Village and Lower Manhattan.
“This, in a word, is b’shert,” he said.
Tamid, which Levine described as a liberal congregation, holds its Friday-night Sabbath services once a month in a church, St. Paul’s 9/11 Chapel.
Tamid is also pushing into the Lower East Side, where Levine noted, “Do you know there is no liberal presence [below East Houston St.] in the Lower East Side? And there are a lot of young families moving into the area.”
The new synagogue hosts monthly book discussions at Pushcart Cafe on East Broadway.
By early last month, the interior of Meseritz Synagogue’s sanctuary was gone. However, the stained-glass window, since it is part of the building’s exterior, is also landmarked and remains.
There will be prayer services at the E. Sixth St. building in the future, but on the ground-floor level below the former sanctuary. Due to the upstairs sanctuary’s condition, the ground-floor hall was actually where most of the regular prayer services actually were held in recent years. The upstairs sanctuary was only used during the High Holy Days.