The objects we see at Broad Street Synagogue now are rejects. They served a purpose for someone once – why were they kept in the first place? But clearly, they weren’t considered to be worth taking away, either when the building closed down as a synagogue or, a few years ago, when people began to live in the building and started tearing through it looking for things of value.
Indeed, most objects here don’t scream “valuable.” Many are actually pretty boring: records of bills paid and donations received; different bids from contractors for repair projects; calendars and old newspapers. Yet some are more unusual and evocative – the prayer book issued to American Jewish soldiers in World War I; a beautiful silver plate with writing on the underside that shows it was a gift for a child’s first birthday.
As we continue to catalog the objects from the building and work to find them a new and more suitable home (with the hope that one day they can return to a revitalized 688 Broad), we try to approach them with a different sense of value. That’s not to say that we bring some kind of unique insight. It just means that we try to look at each object, even the most mundane bill, as a way to explore the larger stories this place represents and as grounds for future research. Take the plate: who does it name? What is its religious significance? Why might it have been left here?
We’d like to think that focusing on the numinous – the transcendent, the enduring, and of course the sacred – value of these objects honors the traditions of this shul. Some of its younger members remember it being like a museum, full of books and other objects that were old and a bit mysterious. What’s left of these artifacts might not have “value” as we usually think about it, but the fact that they have survived means something, tells us something beyond the bland, dry facts they often represent. They are the synagogue’s rejects, and they are its history too.
Below are a few photographs of what we’ve found. Know something about anything pictured here? Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.