About the synagogue and sanctuary

The Brotherhood Synagogue in Gramercy Park NYC is an independent, progressive community which follows the Conservative tradition. Built in 1859, the building was landmarked in 1965. It was originally designed as a Quaker Meeting House and served the 20th Street Friends for nearly 100 years. In 1958, the 20th Street Meeting merged with the 1860 Friends Meeting House, which still stands at 15th Street and Stuyvesant Square. When the Brotherhood Synagogue purchased the Landmark building in 1974, renowned architect James Stewart Polshek offered his design services pro bono in order to renovate and reconstruct the building as a synagogue. In 1994 members of the Brotherhood Synagogue approached Ismar David about renovating the Sanctuary.

The original renovation involved ramps leading to the bimah, the holy ark and an upper level above the canopy. Unfortunately, during a subsequent renovation, much of Ismar David’s design was removed for safekeeping and inadvertently destroyed.

From a suggestion for a press release to architectural organizations’ publications in 1994:

The new altar incorporates the existing elements of the meeting house which includes a sounding board (a curved canopy over the podium platform which the Quakers used to enhance the acoustics in the auditorium). The lean lines of the new ark harmonize with the simple aesthetics of the Quakers. Within this architectural austerity, the clearly defined surfaces of the ark have graphic themes which tell a story of Judaic history. The motifs include the ten commandments, the twelve tribes of Israel and bilingual inscriptions of an ancient Hebrew blessing. Wood marquetry was chosen to integrate the graphics into the wood surfaces. New laser techniques make it possible to render the intricate linear compositions in wood veneers over large areas.

The ark is part of an altar which is integrated into the sanctuary. The 25-foot tall altar dominates the architectural space and is a focal point for both the sanctuary’s main level and its gallery. All aspects of this historic building have been retained and yet it has been given the character of a Jewish house of worship in the twentieth century.

This project with all its decorative elements was designed by Ismar David of New York, NY. He is known for his type designs, book illustrations, books on English and Hebrew calligraphy and is the architectural designer for Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale, NY. Carpentry and cabinet work were done by Leo Hamel and Cory Inco Williamson of Timeless Wood Design in Ossining, NY. The wood marquetry was executed by Creative Designs, also in Ossining, NY.

In 1976, Ismar David designed a silk screen poster to benefit a fund-raising art exhibition at the synagogue.

Brotherhood Synagogue flyer
A flyer from the Brotherhood Synagogue, offering a silk screen poster.
Posted in B