Friday, June 17, 2011

100 Years of the Chevra Talmud Torah Anshei Marovi, Inc.

On June 11, 1911, a group of Jewish men in the West Harlem neighborhood of Manhattanville incorporated their newly created minyan as the Chevra Talmud Torah Anshei Marovi, Inc. After nine years of meeting in rented spaces, the congregation bought a small, two story house at 15 Old Broadway. In 1923, the congregation constructed their house of worship, the Old Broadway Synagogue. This is the building that we daven in today. In this post, and God willing in the ones that follow, I hope to examine aspects of our shul's history during its first century.

A visual focal point for our synagogue has long been the large stained glass window the dominates the facade of the building. Of course, from the late 1960s until 2003, there was no window and in its place, was a bricked in arch with a marble Star of David in the center. While we take the stained glass window for granted, this was not always the case. In the 1960s, it was a liability. Teens would through stones through it from the street, and children from the congregation would sometimes push the panes of glass through their leading so that they would fall on the sidewalk. Consequently, the window always let in a lot of air and it kept the Kiddush Room breezier than one would like. A few years ago, I proudly told Mrs. Kret that we had restored the stained glass window. She was horrified - the old one was so drafty! I assured her that the new window was well sealed (it has safety glass in front of it), but I think she was still a little skeptical.

Since the original window did not exist anymore, recreating it was a challenge. We have some black and white photos that have the window in it, including one of the Ladies Auxiliary in which Mrs. Kret appears, and we have the tax photo of the facade that was taken by New York City in 1939 or 1940. These are great photos but they were challenging to use in determining the original color scheme of the windows. Fortunately, some of the original glass remained in the transom window (the small  window over the front door) and we were able to extrapolate from the remaining glass and the black and white photos what the original scheme really was.

Coming up with the design for the stained glass window was a bit tricky. The tax photo and the Ladies Auxiliary photo showed one design, but in the old dinner journals, we found a photograph of the shul in which the window had a different design, which I am including in this blog posting. The photo is from the thirtieth anniversary celebration of the congregation in 1942, but I assume the photo is actually much older. The design in the tax photo matches that of the Ladies Auxiliary, so this must be the later design. When recreating the stained glass facade (paid for by the Upper Manhattan Fund for Historic Preservation, which was administered by the New York Landmarks Conservancy), we had to decide which design to recreate, the older, possibly original, one and that of the 1940s and 1950s. Ultimately, we chose the latter scheme, which the Gil Studio beautifully executed.  I think you will agree it was a good choice.

Selecting the glass for the new stained glass window