Eastern State Penitentiary restores and reopens synagogue

    By: Peter Crimmins

    A synagogue opens Saturday at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Fairmount. The 19th century historic landmark has fully restored an on-site synagogue that was built by prisoners but ruined from 30 years of exposure.

    By: Peter Crimmins
    pcrimmins@whyy.org

    Synagogue at Eastern State Penitentiary during restoration process. Photo from EasternState.org

    A synagogue opens Saturday at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Fairmount. The 19th century historic landmark has fully restored an on-site synagogue that was built by prisoners but ruined from 30 years of exposure.

    Transcript:
    The 180-year-old prison is a ruin.  The historic landmark is intentionally kept in a state of sustained decay. But site officials made an exception and fully restored the synagogue to its original state. Program director Sean Kelly says unlike the rest of the stone prison, the synagogue was built with wood and plaster that have since completely rotted away.

    Kelly: “To bring someone in here and ask them to imagine what it was like for the Jewish congregation – there was no imagination. It was a stone room with a pile of debris in the middle.”

    What is lost is how just a handful of Jewish prisoners in the 1920s managed to convince the Eastern State Penitentiary to not only hire a local architect to design a worship space, but also keep an adjacent kosher kitchen. The synagogue is not being used for religious services but will be open for public tours.

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