Who We Are

History of the LESJC

 

 

Since its inception, the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy has been dedicated to the preservation of Jewish sacred sites.

 
 Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue in damaged condition.

Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue in damaged condition.

In 1997, the main sanctuary window of the historic Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue blew in during a summer storm and its congregation needed help. Joel Kaplan, then the Executive Director of the United Jewish Council of the East Side, Inc, which is a long-established and well-respected community social-service organization representing nearly 50 Lower East Side synagogues, schools, and cultural institutions, and Holly Kaye, who became Founding Executive Director of the Conservancy, secured a $2,500 emergency assistance grant to help replace the window.

They realized that Beth Hamedrash Hagadol was not alone in struggling with the physical deterioration of its historic structure. Virtually all of the historic synagogues and many other organizations on the Lower East Side are housed in buildings more than 100 and some almost 200 years old. All of them were experiencing problems with their physical structure to the point where the future of several of these sites was threatened. Securing funding for these endangered historic synagogues and other Lower East Side structures became a major impetus for the Conservancy's establishment in 1998. We were founded as a separate cultural, educational touring affiliate of the United Jewish Council. (UJC).

The Conservancy was created with two initial goals: to support, enhance and activate the Lower East Side’s community of living synagogues and other historic structures, and to raise public awareness of the Lower East Side’s distinct cultural identity, both as a historic and present-day Jewish community. A portion of the proceeds of every tour given is returned to the sites visited.

 Chasam Sopher synagogue following restoration

Chasam Sopher synagogue following restoration

Since 1998, the Conservancy has reached out to almost all of the nearly two dozen active synagogues south of 14th Street, which include some of the most historic sacred sites in New York City; established working relationships with congregational and religious leadership; and conducted needs assessments with them on the state of their physical plant and other areas where Conservancy assistance could be helpful.