Tribeca Synagogue is putting its outdoor space to good use

Over the decades, there was always someone who wanted to cover the plaza in front of Tribeca Synagogue on White Street — enclose it to make more room for programming or to make better use of “wasted space.” Now that plaza may be the thing keeping the synagogue alive.

Not only is the synagogue using it for services, but it is also transforming it as a private outdoor playspace for its preschool and at low-fee rents for the preschools of both JCP and Chabad and Super Soccer Stars’ rec program. So the plaza will now be booked from 7:15a till 5p every day.

“Here we are in 2020 and it is not only keeping us going but also helping two schools who are like everyone struggling with enrollment,” said Tribecan Eli Weiss, president of the synagogue. “It’s been a tremendous challenge for us, but we have this wonderful building that has a big outdoor space. It seems like especially now, the building is here for a reason.”

The synagogue closed in March and only started holding small services in the courtyard in early July. The state allows for a max of 50 people, so there is not much they can do. “The whole point is to bring people together, so COVID really just wiped us out,” said Weiss. But when parents started voicing concerns about using public playgrounds, which have no guarantee of being sanitized, a light bulb went off.

The synagogue will add some temporary play structures along with tricycles and other toys for the pre-school set, along with regular cleanings and spaces sectioned off for each school. Over the years the synagogue has hosted Super Soccer Stars and Church Street School in the courtyard for one-off programs, but this is the first time they have used the space to really enhance enrollment for their own programs.

“This community has been entrusted with that building — we inherited it for free, with no mortgage,” Weiss said. “Now it looks like that plaza saved everyone.”