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Congregation Shearith Israel

New York’s oldest Jewish community has a home in a neoclassical building overlooking Central Park and several historic cemeteries across two boroughs.

Congregation Shearith Israel has been in New York City since the town was still New Amsterdam, forming a central part of what makes New York what it is. Today the synagogue is near Central Park. The Sephardic congregation, originally founded in 1654 by 23 Jewish refugees from Recife in Brazil, has had five temples over its more than 350-year history, marking the island of Manhattan with its legacy. Visit the synagogue today or go around to the four cemeteries dotted around the city, marks of Judaism’s long history in the Big Apple.

Tour the current building, constructed in 1897. The architect was Arnold Brunner; Louis Comfort Tiffany designed the interior and the stunning stained-glass windows that were hallmarks of his style. 

Relax in the nearly austere simplicity of the neoclassical building that resisted the more ornate Moorish style that was popular in synagogue construction at the time. Follow the docent on a tour of the congregation’s sacred objects, including colonial-era silversmithing and a set of torah holders shaped like the Liberty Bell.

Go farther afield to the cemeteries. Spot the oldest, built in 1682 in Chinatown; then go up to Greenwich Village for the tiny cemetery, the smallest in the city, built here in 1805. Jewish luminaries are buried in the cemetery on 21st Street, but it’s in Ridgewood, site of the current cemetery, where you’ll find the graves of Emma Lazarus and others.

Right on the western edge of Central Park, Congregation Shearith Israel is easily accessible from a variety of New York landmarks. Reach it in 17 minutes by subway from Grand Central Terminal or in 14 minutes from Penn Station or Times Square. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a leisurely 20-minute stroll away, across the park. 

The congregation’s various historical cemeteries are located throughout the city, offering an interesting tour of the different neighborhoods of Manhattan. The current cemetery in Ridgewood is accessible via public transit and is open from Sunday to Friday during regular business hours. 

Take a 45-minute tour of the congregation’s current building on the second Wednesday of every month. Pay a suggested donation for entrance.


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