Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Remants of the Jewish Lower East Side

The Lower East Side of Manhattan is, today, primarily a Chinese and Hispanic ethnic neighborhood, but it once was the central New York neighborhood for immigrant Jews. By the mid 20th century most had moved to the NY boroughs like Brooklyn and the Bronx, or out to the suburbs, but there are still a few reminders around Seward Park and East Broadway.The Forward building was home to the Yiddish newspaper The Forward, which is still going strong (in both English and Yiddish editions) today but is now based up at the Arebiter Ring building at E. 33rd st. First published in 1897, the Yiddish-language Forward was born as Jewish immigration swelled the New York sweatshops and labor unions. It had close ties to the Socialist Party, taking the name of the successful Socialist paper in Berlin, and is still widely read in New York - not only by Jews - for its socialist take on events. This is as close as it comes to a piece of Yiddish monumental architecture in the world today.Just down the street is the Bialystocker Home for the Aged, one of the last remaining institutions run by the old regional Yiddish landsmanshaftn for the care of older immigrant Jews from Poland. Along east Broadway are a line of shtibls - small spaces serving as prayer houses and offices for Orthodox Jewish communities, the majority of whom have moved their operations to Brooklyn.This part of the city used to be home to literally hundreds of small prayer houses like these. There is still an Orthodox Yeshiva further west towards Chatham Square...The old Five Points neighborhood depicted in the film Gangs of New York, was located down in this area of Manhattan, but very little remains of the old, ramshackle buildings that were depicted in the movie - the old Five Points really was a wood-and-mud-wattle slum and was pretty well torn down over the years and is now submerged under more modern development and parks. The Sephardic Jewish cemetery of Congregation Shearith Israel - The Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Synagogue - is preserved at 55 St. James Place, opposite Chatham Square, on the southeast corner of Chinatown.This was the first Jewish cemetery in New York. The Sephardic Jews had arrived at the time when the Dutch ruled Manhattan, which means that after the Lenape, the Dutch, and the Africans taken as slaves, Jews are among the oldest settlers in the city of New York. Of course, being near Chinatown, we wouldn't expect you to eat anyplace else... try Nha Trang on Baxter Street for some low priced Vietnamese food!Of course, it is not kosher, but then neither am I.

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