New York City
New York City, foremost city of the Western Hemisphere and largest urban Jewish community in history; pop. 7,771,730 (1970), est. Jewish pop. 1,836,000 (1968); metropolitan area 11,448,480 (1970), metropolitan area Jewish (1968), 2,381,000 (including Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, and Westchester counties). (For later population figures, see below: 1970–2006.)
This article is arranged according to the following outline:
DUTCH COLONIAL PERIOD
ENGLISH COLONIAL PERIOD
EARLY AMERICAN PERIOD
MIGRATION AND POPULATION GROWTH
POLITICS AND CIVIC AFFAIRS
POLITICAL AND CIVIC LIFE
COMMUNAL, RELIGIOUS, CULTURAL, AND EDUCATIONAL AFFAIRS
POLITICAL AND CIVIC LIFE
BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS
REAL ESTATE AND HOUSING
UJA-FEDERATION AND ITS ROLE IN THE COMMUNITY
Upper West Side
The arrival of some 23
and Ashkenazi Jews on the French privateer St. Catherine early in September 1654 marked the end of a tortuous journey that began earlier in the year when they left Recife, Brazil, after helping in the unsuccessful defense of the Dutch possession from Portuguese attack, rather than stay and face the Inquisition. The director general of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, and the dominie Johannes Megapolensis tried to refuse haven to the penniless and tired refugees. They protested to the Dutch West India Company against the possible settlement of a "deceitful race" who professed an "abominable religion" and whose worship at the "feet of Mammon" would threaten and limit the profit of loyal subjects of the company. While Stuyvesant's plea was under consideration, other Jews including David de Ferrara and Abraham
arrived in the spring of 1655. The population as a whole accepted the group. Instructions from the Dutch West India Company followed letters written by the Jews to their coreligionists in the company, which directed that newcomers be permitted to live, trade, and travel in New Netherland, and, in effect, to have the same privileges enjoyed in the Netherlands. Probably in deference to Stuyvesant, and because of the small size of the Jewish colony, the Jews, although permitted a burial ground, were not allowed to build a synagogue.
Despite the orders of the company, the newcomers faced other obstacles. The right to trade with some areas, including Albany, was denied as were rights to serve in the militia in lieu of paying a special tax, to own land, and to engage in retail trades like baking. These restrictions were all put forth by Stuyvesant. The Jews' response was twofold. The first took the form of a series of petitions drawn by Abraham de Lucena, Salvador d'Andrada, and Jacob Cohen Henriques addressed to the company in 1655 and 1656. The answers were affirmative. Burgher right, the right to conduct retail and wholesale trade in New Amsterdam, was extended to Jews in 1657, and the right to hold property was also upheld. Some Jews fought Stuyvesant on his own ground.
(who had arrived with Solomon Pietersen in August 1654, prior to the main body of settlers) began a successful court action in November 1655 to permit Jews to serve in the militia in lieu of the payment of a special derogatory tax. Thus the Jews gained primary civil rights within a few years of settlement.
Having secured a foothold, the first Jews began the task of sustaining themselves. While economic opportunity was quite limited compared with those in the more stable, secure, and richer markets of Europe and the Caribbean, the average Jew managed well. In 1655 Jewish taxpayers paid 8% of the cost of the Palisade or "Waal," later the site of Wall Street, while they made up only about 2% of the assessed population. Asser Levy became the most prominent and successful merchant. He built a prosperous real estate business, had a kosher butcher shop, and won the right to participate in the citizens' guard. Another member of the founding group, Levy, a butcher and tanner by trade, carried on his business just outside the city's wall. He expanded his interests to real estate and trade within the city, as well as in communities along the Hudson River. Levy was one of the few pioneer Jews who remained and died in the province and whose descendants could be traced to 18th-century New York.
The surrender of New Amsterdam to the British in 1664 brought a number of changes to the Jewish settlement. Generally, civil and religious rights were widened. Jews were permitted to hold and be elected to public office and restrictions on the building of a synagogue were lifted. While there is some evidence that a synagogue existed as early as 1695, it was undoubtedly a private home used for this purpose by the Jewish community. Shearith Israel, the first congregation in New York, was probably organized in about 1706. Between 1729 and 1730 the congregation erected the first synagogue, a small building on Mill Lane – known also as Mud Lane – the site of present South William Street. This event occurred some 75 years after the original settlement and was an indication of its permanence as well as of the acceptance by English authority of the Jewish economic and social position. Interestingly, the London and Curaçao communities, which were also founded in 1654, had built synagogues within a few years of their founding. The hesitancy of New York Jews was probably due to the smallness of their numbers, as well as to the transient nature of their status and to governmental opposition.
The roots of the colony depended upon its economic viability. Jewish merchants took a major interest in overseas trade, partly because ocean traffic negated somewhat onerous local control and requirements and partly because it provided a measure of freedom that allowed them to use their special skills. Movement from place to place was its own protection: investments were widespread and thus less vulnerable. The transient, wandering Jew was an answer to the ghetto and enclosing walls, for he was more difficult to tax and to ghettoize.
He carried his wealth with him, and he had knowledge of languages – Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch. In the correspondence of Nathan Simson, there are letters written in three and sometimes four languages. Simson had knowledge of the international market, and his kinsmen were in the Caribbean, Italy, Spain, the Near East, and India. This provided an opportunity not usually afforded the restricted Catholic or Protestant. Certain markets were specialties. When in 1699 Governor Bellomont wanted a bag of jewels that had been seized from an accused pirate appraised, he "ordered a Jew in town to be present, he understanding Jewells well."
Jews concentrated on such commodities as conditions required. They were among the first to introduce cocoa and chocolate to England and were heavily engaged in the coral, textile, and slave trades, and at times had virtual monopolies in the ginger trade. They are also said to have introduced whaleoil spermaceti candles to the colonies. In 1701 Jewish merchants accounted for 12% of those engaged in overseas trade, though they represented only about 2% of the general population. In 1776 they were less than 1% of the population and less than 1% of the overseas merchants. The decline of the overseas trade indicated not only that New York Jews had become rooted but also that they had found other means of earning a living. The colonial transience gave way to permanence.
During this process Jews struggled to obtain full citizenship, especially as it applied to trade. The Jew who wished to engage in overseas or wholesale trade had to face the question of his status, whether he was a citizen or an alien. As a citizen, except for some ambiguity with respect to his right to vote or hold office, he was allowed most rights including the right to trade. Since the English accepted Dutch citizenship equally with English, Jews who were burghers of New Amsterdam, as well as native-born colonists, continued to be citizens under British rule. The problems facing aliens, the status of the majority of Jews, were clearly set forth in the Trade and Navigation Acts passed between 1650 and 1663. This central body of British law applying to the colonies was intended not only to foster mercantilism but also to prevent the encroachment upon trade by "Jews, French and other foreigners." Under these acts aliens could not engage in British commerce without severe penalty.
The necessity for some form of citizenship became obvious by the Rabba Couty affair. In November 1671 Couty's ship Trial was condemned by the Jamaica Vice-Admiralty Court on the ground that Couty, a Jew, was by definition a foreigner. In appealing the decision in England to the Council of Trade and Plantations, Couty obtained certificates from Governor Lovelace of New York indicating that he had been a free burgher of New York for several years. On this evidence and the fact that the ship and crew were English, the council held the sentence illegal. Those Jews, therefore, who could prove native birth did not need to bother with naturalization proceedings, but the alien Jew had to become a citizen if he was to engage in foreign trade. In general, however, the Jews in New York found that the procurement of naturalization, the right to trade and hold property, and the right of inheritance were not too difficult to obtain. Merchants in England were rarely naturalized; mostly they were endenizened – i.e., they could trade, but not hold real estate. In New York, on the other hand, 46 Jews were naturalized but only six endenizened. Freemanship, the right to engage in retail trade, was also relatively easy to obtain, despite instances of prohibition. Forty-seven Jews were made freemen between 1688 and 1770.
The decline of the overseas trade brought a corresponding increase in the numbers of Jews who were local retailers and craftsmen. They sold a wide range of goods, such as guns (especially during war), rum, wine, ironware, glass, furs, and foodstuff. Such merchants as Jacob Franks,
often advertised their wares in newspapers. They were frequently in partnership with non-Jews, including members of the Livingston, Cuyler, and Alexander families. In some instances such partnerships developed into long friendships, as was the case of Rodrigo Pacheco with James Alexander.
, made freeman in 1746, became a noted silversmith and goldsmith whose work was much in demand and is displayed today in many museums.
, also a goldsmith, was made a freeman in 1769; Michael Solomon
in 1769 was a watchmaker; and Abraham Isaacs in 1770, a tailor. These occupations were not found in the period of initial settlement, and there were few Jews in the professions during this period. Dr. Elias Woolin was in the city in 1744, but there were no Jewish members of the bar, though Jews represented about 10% of the litigants in the various courts. In addition, some Jews were not successful financially. A number, including Isaac Levy, Moses Hart, and Michael Jacobs, became insolvent debtors. Some were jailed and others, like Aaron Machado and Abraham Myers Cohen, were written off as bad debts.
During the period of British control Jewish merchants were able to hold many positions of responsibility.
and his son David were provision agents for the Crown during the French and Indian War. Sampson Simson was a member of the group that received the charter for the Chamber of Commerce in 1770. Perhaps the highest position held by a Jew in colonial New York was that of colonial agent representing the colony's interests in Parliament. This post was given to Rodrigo Pacheco in 1731. Daniel and Mordecai Gomez served as Spanish interpreters to the Supreme Court in New York. A number of Jews were elected to office, generally as constables or assessors. Members of the Hays family made the constabulary something of a tradition. For Jewish citizens, Christian oaths necessary for office, voting, and naturalization were often modified or eliminated. It was quite unusual for Jews to hold office in the other colonies, and the fact that they did in New York was an indication of the cosmopolitan nature of the colony and its general acceptance of the Jewish community. There was no ghetto and little overt anti-Jewish feeling. Most of the Jewish population lived in the area below Wall Street, generally in the Dock and South wards facing the East
River, mixed among their Christian neighbors. Jacob Franks lived off Coenties Slip and Asser Levy on Stone Street, as did Jacob Acosta. The burial ground off present-day Chatham Square was also on the East Side, at the end of Pearl Street, the main road through that part of town. In 1748 the Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm, then residing in the colony, wrote that Jews "enjoyed all the privileges common to the other inhabitants of the town or the province."
Precise census figures are not generally available, but for most of the 17th and 18th centuries Jews represented 1% to 2% of the total New York City population. In 1700 there were 17 households listed in the assessment rolls; estimating this at six per family, there were about 100 individuals, or 2% of the general population of 4,500. In 1722, 20 households are named, or about 1½%. A peak of 31 families was recorded in 1728, about 2.3% of the general population of 8,000. This was followed by a gradual decline to 19 families in 1734, or 1.2%. In that year Jews paid 1.9% of the city's taxes; in 1722 they had paid 2%. As a group they were seemingly slightly more affluent than their neighbors. After 1734 there are no extant assessment lists for New York City, so population figures are questionable, but it is fairly safe to rely on the 1% figure for the remaining period, although it may have been more.
Congregation Shearith Israel provided a cohesive force. Not the least of its functions was to provide a secular education, for there were no public schools. Religious subjects, as well as arithmetic and English, were taught by itinerant teachers. Moses Fonseca, for example, was brought in from Curaçao to be a ḥazzan as well as teacher. There were strong pressures for intermarriage. The limited number of Jews and hostility between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, plus a basic tolerance, created an atmosphere conducive for intermarriage. In 1742 Phila Franks, daughter of Jacob and Abigail Franks, one of the most noted Jewish families, married Oliver Delancey, an aristocrat and an Episcopalian. A few months later her brother David married Margaret Evans of Philadelphia; their children were baptized. By the eve of the American Revolution the pioneer Jewish citizens – the Pinheiros, De Mesquitas, Asser Levys, and their descendants – had all but disappeared from the New York scene.
The advent of the American Revolution found the Jewish community divided. In the past Jews had expressed their fealty to the Crown by word and deed. Numbers of Jews served in the colonial wars. Samuel Myers Cohen, Jacob Franks, and others were in the militia during the King George War, Abraham Solomon died in service during the French and Indian War, and others had served aboard privateers. Some, like members of the Franks family, were commissary agents for the British government. New York Jews, however, along with many others, sensed the emancipatory action of the Revolution and the possibility of full civil and political rights. Between 1768 and 1770 some 11 Jewish merchants, including
, signed Non-Importation Articles that sought repeal of the Townshend Acts, which placed duties on the importation of tea, paper, lead and paint among other articles. The conquest of the city by the British in 1776 caused many Jews to flee to unoccupied places, such as Philadelphia and several locations in Connecticut. One supporter of the American cause was
, who for a time was imprisoned by the British as a spy. Ḥazzan Gershom Mendes
fled to Philadelphia and helped found Congregation Mikveh Israel there. Others, confident of British justice, chose to stay, and the congregation carried on services during the occupation. Among the Loyalists was Abraham Wagg, who left for England in 1779 and attempted reconciliation between the contending factions. Uriah
, a noted merchant, remained loyal. David Franks was accused by Congress of being a Loyalist and relieved of his commissary rights with the American government. He held a similar post under the British. He also left for England, but returned after the war for a time. The majority of Jews preferred a neutral position in the conflict, partly in fear of the consequences of a wrong guess. Jews sympathetic with the British cause knew what to expect from England but did not know what their status would be under the new government. Patriotic Jews, on the other hand, looked forward to a new freedom.
The end of the Revolution brought many distinct changes. Civil liberties, often a matter of governmental whim under the English, became part of the New York State constitution. Opportunities were expanded and new fields opened. Within a decade after the Revolution, Judah Zuntz and
were admitted to the bar. In 1792
were among the founders of the New York Stock Exchange. Gershom Mendes Seixas served as a trustee of Columbia College from 1784 to 1814, and was one of 14 ministers who participated at
's first inaugural in April 1789, and Col. David M. Franks was one of the marshals in charge of the processional at the inaugural. Among the first Jewish graduates of Columbia College was Sampson Simson in 1800. Walter Judah, admitted to the college in 1795, also attended the medical school. He died while treating the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1798. In 1818 Governor De Witt Clinton attended the opening of Shearith Israel when the congregation rebuilt the synagogue on the Mill Street site. No colonial governor is known to have ever shown such deference to the community.
The Revolution reduced the Jewish population to less than 1% of the population. It remained at that level until the 1830s and 1840s, when an influx of German and Polish Jews caused a sudden rise to perhaps 15,000 in 1847 and to some 40,000, or approximately 4%, on the eve of the Civil War. Replacing the old and for the most part extinct pioneer generation were mostly German Jews, such as Harmon
, son of Uriah, a mid-18th-century immigrant, who established possibly the first copper-rolling mill in the country in 1813. One of the distinctive changes in postwar New York was Jewish involvement in the political life of the community, perhaps
best seen in the career of
Mordecai Manuel *Noah
. Born in Philadelphia in 1785, he entered public service as consul to Tunis in 1813. He became a member of the Democratic Party and was elected high sheriff of New York in 1821, surveyor of the port from 1829 to 1833, and judge of the Court of Sessions in 1841. In 1825 he started the unsuccessful Jewish settlement of Ararat on the Niagara River. As editor of the newspaper The Evening Star during the 1830s, he broke with Andrew Jackson and became a founder of the Whig and Nativist parties. His espousal of Jewish causes and his involvement with politics reflected a distinct example of the interests of the community. His funeral in 1851 was attended with the most elaborate ceremony by the Jewish settlement. The publishers
were powers in the Tammany Society in the first two decades of the 19th century.
was elected to the state assembly in 1829 and 1831, while
Emanuel B. *Hart
was elected to the House of Representatives in 1851. He also held the posts of surveyor of the port and president of the Board of Aldermen. Greater social mobility of the Jews after the Revolution could be seen in their movement uptown from the area below Wall Street into other parts of the city.
and Naphtali and Benjamin Judah lived in the Third Ward, the present-day Greenwich Village. The residences of Jacob B.
and Asher Marx were located on the newly burgeoning East Side. The lower midtown area was the residence of Henry Hyman,
, and Hayman
. The wealthiest Jews and non-Jews resided a little below and a little above Wall Street. Harmon Hendricks, probably the richest Jew of early 19th-century New York, lived at 61 Greenwich Street. Near him, on this "quality lane," resided the almost equally wealthy
Solomon J. *Isaacs
, Lewis Marks, and Mrs. Isaac Moses.
The changing character of the community was also evident in the changing religious organization. In 1825 a group of Ashkenazi Jews, led by Barrow E. Cohen and
Isaac B. *Kursheedt
, complaining of its formality and control, broke away from the parent body, Shearith Israel, and formed the Bnai Jeshurun Congregation. In 1828 another dissenting group of Dutch, German, and Polish Jews broke from Bnai Jeshurun and formed the Congregation Anshe Chesed. In 1839, Polish members of these two groups formed Congregation Shaarey Zedek. Other German Jews formed Shaarey Hashamayim in 1839, Rodeph Shalom in 1842, and Temple Emanu-El in 1845. Dutch Jews established Bnai Israel in 1847 and French, Shaarey Brocho in 1851. The proliferation of congregational organizations and divisions of the Jewish community were due partly to the new freedom resulting from the Revolution. At first, these new congregations used a number of privately owned buildings before erecting their own synagogue buildings in what became a period of synagogue construction. The old Mill Street synagogue was sold by Shearith Israel in 1833 and a new building was erected on Crosby Street. In addition, there were five major synagogue structures in New York by 1860: Bnai Jeshurun on Greene Street, Shaarey Tefilah on Wooster, Anshe Chesed on Norfolk Street, Temple Beth El on 33rd Street, and Rodeph Shalom on Clinton Street. In the 1850s Anshe Chesed was the largest congregation in the United States. By the Civil War, Temple Emanu-El and Shearith Israel were the wealthiest and most influential of the congregations.
Religious organizations produced a number of distinguished leaders.
Samuel M. *Isaacs
, an English Jew who arrived in New York in 1839, was ḥazzan and possibly the first regular preacher in New York City. He was engaged as ḥazzan by Bnai Jeshurun and Shaarey Tefilah. From 1859 he edited the Jewish Messenger, one of the most influential Jewish periodicals.
Jacques Judah *Lyons
, the ḥazzan of Shearith Israel in the 1840s, compiled material for a proposed history of Jews in America, a task he did not complete. The first ordained rabbis arrived in the 1840s from Europe. Among them was Leo Merzbacher who ministered to Anshe Chesed and Rodeph Shalom and helped in establishing the Reform Temple Emanu-El, where he delivered sermons, attended official functions, and assisted in the education of the children. Others included
Dr. Max *Lilienthal
, considered the most capable preacher in German, and
Dr. Morris J. *Raphall
, who had a distinguished career with generally German congregations. Ḥazzanim with excellent singing voices who enhanced the synagogue services included Leon Sternberger of Warsaw and Ignatius Ritterman of Cracow.
The period after the Revolutionary War also saw the start of mutual-aid societies and landsmanshaften, which generally began as burial societies (ḥevra kaddisha). The Hebrah Gemilut Hasadim, organized at Shearith Israel in 1786, disbanded in 1790. As a successor, Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas founded Hebrah Hesed Vaemet in 1802, an organization still in existence. In 1826 Bnai Jeshurun formed the Hebrah Gemilut Hesed, known as the Hebrew Mutual Benefit Society, the forerunner of many such societies. The first president of this important group was Isaac B. Kursheedt. Anshe Chesed helped organize several societies, including the Montefiore Society in 1841.
Numerous fraternal orders began, the most important being the Independent Order
, founded in 1843 by 12 men, including Henry Jones, Isaac Rosenberg, and R.M. Roadacher. It combined mutual aid and fraternal features in an effort to bring harmony and peace among Jews. The groups spread rapidly with lodges and memberships throughout the country. Another such society was the Hebrew Benevolent Society, established in 1822 with Daniel Jackson as its first president. He was succeeded by John I. Hart and Roland M. Mitchell. (These names are an indication of the difficulty of identifying Jews during this period.) In 1820 women of Shearith Israel had organized a Female Hebrew Benevolent Society. In 1844 the German Hebrew Benevolent Society, a more narrowly based Landsleute group, was formed. These groups worked so well that by the eve of the Civil War few, if any, Jews had to apply to city institutions for aid. The Hebrew Benevolent Society and German Hebrew Benevolent Society united just prior to the Civil War, but other groups continued to maintain independence. Under the urging of Rev. Samuel
Isaacs in the Jewish Messenger and
Dr. Samuel *Adler
of Temple Emanu-El, the Hebrew and German societies formed the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in 1859.
For years after the Revolution there were demands for a Jewish hospital. It was not until 1852, however, that Sampson Simson, with the assistance of Shearith Israel and Shaarey Tefilah and a group of native and English Jews, founded "Jews' Hospital in the City of New York." This became known as Mount Sinai in 1866. Contributions from
of New Orleans and N.K. Rosenfeld of Temple Emanu-El, among others, helped in the construction of the building in 1853. Poor patients were given free treatment. The staff, as well as patients, were Jewish and non-Jewish.
Young men's Jewish groups also became part of the social scene of 19th-century New York and reflected a universal interest in education and its dissemination, so much a part of Jacksonian America. In 1852 a Hebrew Young Men's Literary Society was founded. A splinter group formed the Philodocean Society, and in 1854 another group formed the Touro Literary Institute. Other groups included the Montefiore Literary Association and the Washington Social Club. In 1858 the Young Men's and Touro groups merged to form the Hebrew Young Men's Literary Society. Jews also organized military organizations that had strong social overtones. These included Troop K, Empire Hussars, and the Young Men's Lafayette Association. Most of these social organizations, which included the Cultur Verein and Sange Verein, were formed as landsmanshaften, i.e., Young Men of Germany, Polish Young Men, etc. The Harmonie Club of German Jews is still in existence. Various members of these socially and culturally conscious organizations joined B'nai Brith before the Civil War and in 1850 also founded the Maimonides Library Association. This was a large library, housed on Orchard Street, and it was open to the public. Elaborate balls, dinners, and charity concerts did much to enliven New York Jewish society. The annual ball of the Young Men's Hebrew Benevolent Society was first held in 1842, and the annual dinners of the Hebrew and German Hebrew Benevolent Societies were highlights of the social season.
The flourishing of New York Jewish society found expression in the rise not only of community organizations but also of the press. The late 18th-century bookseller and publisher Benjamin Gomez was joined in his profession by Naphtali Phillips, publisher of the National Advocate, and Solomon Jackson, publisher of the first Jewish periodical in the United States, a monthly entitled The Jew (issued from 1823 to 1825). The first successful Jewish periodical was Robert Lyon's The Asmonean (1848–58), which published the debates between Jewish leaders over the necessity of a union of American Jews. In 1857 Rabbi Samuel Isaacs' Jewish Messenger became the voice of Orthodox Judaism and called for a union of Jewish charities, while championing a Jewish free school. There were printers skilled in German type, including Henry Franks, who printed a holiday prayer book, Maḥzor mi-Kol ha-Shanah, among other items. Isaac Bondi, rabbi of Anshe Chesed, edited the Hebrew Leader from 1859 to 1874. Among the works of Jewish authors published during this period were Mordecai Noah's imaginative Book of Yashar and Rev. Raphall's Post-Biblical History of the Jews. Despite an interest in literature and the arts, few scholarly works were produced by Jews during this time. Highly skilled Jewish artisans in the tradition of Myer Myers were few, an exception being
Jacob R. *Lazarus
, a painter and student of Henry Inman, whose works are today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Jewish education varied little from the 18th century, except that free public schools, which were Protestant in tone, were available from 1805. These schools were extensively used by the Jewish population, especially after they came under governmental control in 1842, slowly gave up sectarianism, and greatly expanded, thus lessening the demand for synagogal day schools. In 1842 Rabbi Samuel Isaacs of Bnai Jeshurun converted an afternoon school to the New York Talmud Torah and Hebrew Institute. It lasted until 1847. Other congregations such as Anshe Chesed and Rodeph Shalom also started short-lived Hebrew and English schools. Jews generally objected to the teaching of Christian ethics and the use of Christian textbooks in public schools. Such objections helped trigger the expansion of Hebrew schools in the 1850s. Bnai Jeshurun, Temple Emanu-El, Shaarey Zedek, and Shearith Israel all started parochial day schools combining secular and religious education. By 1854 there were seven such schools but there was great debate over their necessity. As in the colonial period, the education of Jewish girls was not considered too important; they were either sent to public schools or taught by private tutors. A few unsuccessful attempts were made to establish institutions of higher education. Sampson Simson organized the Jewish Theological Seminary and Scientific Institution, but there was little else. Jews of New York did not support Isaac Wise's Zion Collegiate Institute in Cincinnati and little was done for Samuel M. Isaacs' Hebrew high school founded in the 1850s.
Several world events stirred the community. The
case in Italy in 1859, in which a Jewish boy was converted to Christianity despite family objections, led S.M. Isaacs to form the
*Board of Delegates of the American Israelites
; it was intended to protect and secure civil and religious rights of Jews in the U.S. and abroad. An earlier episode, the
(an accusation of ritual murder against the Jews of Damascus), led to several mass meetings in 1840 calling for President Van Buren to protest this accusation.
There was tremendous diversity to Jewish business interests during this period. Generally, however, the latter centered on small retail shops and small handicraft businesses. Some Jews held posts in civil service, generally of a minor nature, an exception being Albert
, justice of the Supreme Court of New York. There were a few men of prominence in business.
, one of the largest fur traders in the colonies, employed John Jacob Astor in his business after the Revolution. Another was Eli Hart, who was in the wheat and flour business. Daniel Jackson was a noted broker and banker.
was honorary secretary of the New York Stock Exchange from 1831 to 1853.
represented Rothschild interests in New York after he replaced Joseph L. and J. Josephs in 1836.
The Civil War found the Jewish community, like the rest of the country, divided over slavery. New York City in many ways resembled a Southern city. Though slavery was prohibited after 1827, schools and theaters were segregated. Many Jews, including members of the Manumission Society of New York City, had freed their slaves, others retained them until forced to set them free. Mordecai M. Noah supported the pro-slavery position, as did Dr. Morris J. Raphall, who observed that the Ten Commandments condoned slavery. This position was attacked by Michael
, writing in the Tribune, and he was joined by Rev. Samuel M. Isaacs as well as many others. With the start of the war the Jewish response was overwhelmingly in favor of the Union. On April 20, 1861,
was vice president of a Union meeting held at Union Square. His firm, J. and J. Seligman & Co., sold federal bonds in the astonishing sum of $200,000,000. Although Jews enlisted quickly, there was strong anti-Jewish bias in the army. At first Jewish chaplains were not permitted to serve, but Samuel M. Isaacs and his son Myer were among the leaders of the successful struggle to change the restrictive terms of the law. Jewish soldiers were dispersed throughout the army, and there were few Jewish enclaves, except for Company D of the 8th, New York, National Guard.
Jews also supported the war effort by aiding the United States Sanitary Commission, and held numerous Purim balls or Feasts of Esther to help the sick and wounded. Shearith Israel, Anshe Chesed, and Temple Emanu-El were in the forefront of the effort to raise money for the war effort. The 1864 Sanitary Fair in New York, the largest held during the war, found Benjamin Nathan and Moses Lazarus on the executive committee and Moses Schloss and Lewis May on the general committee. The Jews Hospital opened its wards to the wounded and between 1862 and 1865 treated hundreds of soldiers of all faiths. Judge Albert Cardozo and Col. E.B. Hart were on the Advisory Committee of the New York State Soldiers Committee. By the end of the war the Jewish community was numerous, well-represented, and established. It had prepared the ground for future, more massive immigration. Newcomers after 1865 found a community with a history and a background of accomplishment that proved receptive to them.
Beginning in the 1870s and continuing for half a century, the great migration from Eastern Europe radically altered the demography, social structure, cultural life, and communal order of New York Jewry. During this period more than a million Jews settled in the city. They were overwhelmingly Yiddish-speaking and impoverished, the products of intensive, insular Jewish life and wretched economic conditions. Meeting the harsh problems of economic survival, social integration, and the maintenance of the ethnic heritage required vast physical, emotional, and intellectual efforts.
On their arrival in the city the East European Jews (commonly called Russian Jews) found a Jewish settlement dominated by a group strikingly different in cultural background, social standing, and communal outlook. By the 1870s this older settlement had become, with some important exceptions, middle class in outlook, mercantile in its economic base, and Reform Jewish in group identity. Successfully integrated in the economic life of the city and well advanced in its acculturation to the larger society, the established community drew its leadership from a socially homogenous elite of bankers, merchant princes, brokers, and manufacturers. The two groups – the prosperous and Americanized "uptown Jews" and the alien and plebeian "downtown Jews" – confronted and interacted with each other, a process that significantly shaped the course of community development.
Two-thirds of the city's Jews in 1870 were German born or children of German-born parents. Together with the smaller subgroups – descendants of the 18th-century community, clusters of English, Dutch, and Bohemian Jews, and a growing contingent of Polish Jews (who formed a distinctive subcommunity) – the Jewish population numbered 60,000, or 4% of the inhabitants of the larger city (Manhattan and Brooklyn). By 1920, New York (all five boroughs) contained approximately 1,640,000 Jews (29% of the total population), and they made up the largest ethnic group in the city. (The Italians, the second most numerous, formed 14% of the population. Their arrival in the city paralleled the Russian Jewish migration, and their initial areas of settlement adjoined the Jewish immigrant quarters.) By 1920, 45% of the Jewish population of the United States lived in New York.
As the main port of entry for immigrants, New York served as a transit point and temporary domicile. The city also attracted a portion of those who entered the country through other ports, particularly Philadelphia and Baltimore, or who came to the city after having lived inland for a time. Of all immigrant groups, Jews ranked first in their preference for New York. According to S. Joseph, 1,372,189 Jews passed through the port of New York between 1881 and 1911, of whom 73% settled in the city. The Table: Population Growth-NYC and Jews indicates the population growth of New York and of its Jewish community. (The statistical data for New York City and Brooklyn are combined for the period prior to 1898 to permit comparison with the later period. New York City in 1870 was restricted to Manhattan Island. In 1874 it annexed three western townships in the Bronx and in 1895 annexed the eastern towns. Brooklyn remained a separate city until 1898 when it consolidated with Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Richmond (Staten Island) to form the present-day city. Before 1900 only scattered Jews lived in the areas that later became the boroughs of Queens and Richmond.)
New York City Population Growth and Jewish Population Growth: 1870–1920
||Total Population of Greater New York
||Estimated Jewish Population
||Percentage of Jews to Total Population
Population dispersion within the city accompanied this growth (See Table: New York - Population Growth). In 1870 nearly two-thirds of the inhabitants of Greater New York resided in Manhattan. Fifty years later Manhattan's population had grown two and a half times, but it contained only two-fifths of the city's inhabitants. During this period Brooklyn's population multiplied fourfold, the Bronx's fifteenfold, Queens' ninefold, and Richmond's threefold. Queens and Richmond, still the most thinly inhabited areas of the city, had a density per acre of 6.1 and 3.2 persons, respectively, compared with 27.6 for the Bronx, 39.5 for Brooklyn, and 160 for Manhattan. On Manhattan's Lower East Side – bounded by Catherine Street, the Bowery, Third Avenue, 14th Street, and the East River – the population numbered 415,000 in 1920, a decline from a peak of 540,000 in 1910. At the height of its congestion, one-fourth of Manhattan's residents occupied one-twentieth of the island's space, an area of 1.5 sq. mi. For most of 50 years these East Side blocks, already overcrowded in 1870, were the reception center for the flood of Russian Jewish immigration. Only after 1900, when the immigrants themselves established new neighborhoods in areas like Harlem and Brownsville in Brooklyn, did some newcomers go directly there, bypassing the Lower East Side.
New York by Borough: Population Growth by Boroughs, 1880–1920, and Jewish Population by Boroughs in 1920
||Jewish Population 1920 (est.)
||Percentage of Jews to Pop. 1920
The Jews constituted the most conspicuous element in this dual phenomenon of rising congestion and rapid dispersion. In 1870 the less affluent, and those whose occupations required it, lived in the southern wards of the Lower East Side along the axis of East Broadway. Germans, Irish, and native Americans constituted a majority of the district's population.
The northern tier of wards, stretching from Rivington to 14th streets, were heavily populated by Germans. Two-story frame houses were the prevailing type of residence, though many of these had already been converted to multiple-family use. By 1890, with Russian Jews pouring in, the great majority of the earlier inhabitants, including the German Jews, left the 80 square blocks of the southern wards. Ten years later they were in the process of abandoning the entire region below 14th Street to the rising tide of Jewish immigrants. The characteristic type of residency in the enlarged Jewish quarter was now the double-decker or "dumbbell" tenement. (The dumbbell shape met an 1879 municipal regulation requiring an air-shaft between contiguously built tenements.) These tenements were five to eight stories in height, they occupied 75 to 90% of a plot 25 feet wide and 100 feet deep, and each floor contained four apartments – a total of 14 rooms, of which only one in each apartment received air and light from the street or from a cramped backyard. The most congested area was the tenth ward, the heart of the Jewish East Side. In the 46 blocks between Division, Clinton, Rivington, and Chrystie Streets that made up the ward (an area of 106 acres), there were 1,196 tenements in 1893. The population was 74,401, a density of 701.9 persons an acre.
The German Jews who left the Lower East Side in this population displacement joined their more prosperous brethren, who had moved halfway up the east side of Manhattan in the years following the Civil War. They settled between 50th and 90th Streets, a region that included the beginnings of Yorkville with its heavy concentration of Germans. Smaller contingents settled farther north in the upper-class neighborhood of Harlem, north of Central Park, and scattered numbers reached the zone of well-situated brownstone homes west of Central Park.
The relocation of synagogues and the establishment of other Jewish institutions underscored this process of removal and social differentiation: the geographical division, in short, of the Jewish populace into "uptown" and "downtown." As early as 1860 the venerable Shearith Israel moved from Crosby Street, in a rapidly declining downtown area, to 19th Street near Fifth Avenue. In 1897 it moved to Central Park West and 70th Street, its present site. (Shaarey Tefillah, the first congregation on the Upper West Side, erected its synagogue on West 82nd Street four years earlier.) Temple Emanu-El, the leading Reform congregation in the city, moved from East 12th Street to Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street, where the congregation in 1868 consecrated an impressive Moorish-style edifice. In 1872 Ahavath Chesed occupied its fourth site in its 26-year existence when it moved to Lexington Avenue and 55th Street (known as the Central Synagogue, this is the oldest building in continuous use as a synagogue in New York). A year later Anshe Chesed left downtown Norfolk Street for Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street. Soon after, it consolidated with Adas Jeshurun to form Temple Beth El, which in 1891 moved to Fifth Avenue and 76th Street. Though Bnai Jeshurun, the oldest Ashkenazi congregation in the city, eventually moved to the West Side,
it, too, belonged to the mainstream migration to the mid-East Side. In 1865 it occupied a newly completed house of worship, its third, on 34th Street and Broadway. It migrated further uptown to Madison Avenue and 65th Street in 1884. In 1918 the congregation moved to its present synagogue on West 88th Street near West End Avenue.
Also located in the mid-East Side area were a number of private clubs that catered to the social needs of the wealthier Jewish businessmen: Criterion, Fidelio, Freundschaft, Lotus, Progress, and the prestigious Harmonie, the club of the German-Jewish elite. Harmonie occupied its own building on 42nd Street west of Fifth Avenue from 1867 to 1912, when it moved to 4 East 60th Street. In 1872 uptown Jews transferred one of their most esteemed philanthropic institutions, Mount Sinai Hospital, to 67th Street and Lexington Avenue. By the turn of the century additional institutions supported by the older community were operating in the area. The Baron de Hirsch Trade School on East 64th Street, the Clara de Hirsch Home for Working Girls on East 63rd Street, and the Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA) at Lexington and 92nd Street were the most prominent. Fourteen synagogues served the growing Yorkville settlement, half of them Reform or Conservative. They occupied spacious buildings – Beth El seated 2,400 and Emanu-El 1,600 – and congregants had average annual incomes that ranged from Bnai Jeshurun's $20,000 to Emanu-El's $46,000. The Orthodox congregations mainly served a Central European group, though affluent East European Jews were moving into the area and joining them. Zichron Ephraim, organized in 1889 and located on 67th Street near Lexington Avenue, was the wealthiest. Its rabbi was New York-born and had received his university and rabbinical training in Germany and the U.S.
The Jewish settlement in Harlem developed along broadly parallel lines, though with some differences. It grew more slowly at the start. Less accessible to the center of the city – hence beyond the reach of most middle-class families – Harlem became a residential suburb for the wealthy. In 1874, when Temple Israel was established, it was the sole congregation in Harlem. Fourteen years later, when it dedicated its new synagogue on Fifth Avenue and 125th Street, three other small congregations were serving the community as well. By 1900 the number of permanent synagogues had grown to 13. Significantly, four of these had been founded by East European Jews, a sign that the movement of Russian Jews from the Lower East Side to Harlem was already well under way.
The immigrant influx inspired the poet Emma Lazarus in 1883 to compose The New Colossus, a paean to the future Americans. The famous sonnet echoes many of the conflicting identities and ideals swirling around the new arrivals. The compassion of the lines "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" welcomes the tired immigrants, but the following image of the "wretched refuse of your teaming shore" hints at the condescension these refugees were to suffer. These tensions, between ancient and modern, Jew and American, freedom and oppression, give Lazarus' work meaning and power. The sonnet was engraved on a plaque and placed in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903, 16 years after her death.
The completion of the first elevated railway in the late 1870s inaugurated a new age of transit, opening cheap, semirural land to intensive urban development. Along a network of expanding elevated and subway routes, Russian Jewish immigrants moved out of the downtown quarter in two great streams: north to Harlem and then to the Bronx, and southeast across the East River to Brooklyn's Williamsburg and Brownsville. By the 1880s three elevated lines were running the length of Manhattan. In 1904 the first subway was completed. One route extended to the tip of Manhattan and opened the West Side and Washington Heights to mass settlement. A branch ran through Harlem and even before its completion brought a wave of construction to peripheral areas. The subway placed sections of the Bronx within the reach of families of modest means. In like manner the transit net spread to Brooklyn. The barrier of the East River was first breached in 1883 with the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Williamsburg Bridge (1903) and the Manhattan Bridge (1909) and subway tunnels under the river vastly improved interborough transportation. A construction boom in multi-family dwellings marked the years 1904–07. In 1914 and 1915 twice as many apartment units were built in Brooklyn as in Manhattan, a ratio that held into the 1920s, when additional subway facilities were completed.
Though transportation and moderate rents were essential for geographic mobility, rising expectations and economic progress were no less significant. The physical conditions the new immigrant encountered were tolerable while he made his initial adjustment and saved to bring the family that was left behind. With this achieved, the Jewish immigrant family looked beyond the immigrant quarter. Improved housing and environmental conditions, particularly as they might affect the young, were the predominant motives in a family's calculations (new neighborhood housing was superior because of the more stringent municipal regulations under which it was built). For the working class, moreover, the Lower East Side was losing its "walk to work" advantage. By 1910 the main immigrant area of employment – the clothing industry – was moving to the West Side between 14th and 23rd Streets (during the 1920s its center reached the Pennsylvania Station district). This development reflected the decreasing role of the sweatshop. Once the tenement-flat sweatshop, based as it was on cheap labor drawn from the neighborhood, was restricted or eliminated, a major feature that had attracted newly arrived Jewish immigrants to the Lower East Side disappeared. The gradual elimination of the sweatshop belonged to a general improvement in labor conditions beginning after 1900, when municipal housing regulations began having some effect over the worst abuses in the tenement sweatshops, and was especially marked in the 1910s, owing to the new militancy and effectiveness of the labor unions (see below). A shorter work week and higher wages created the margin in time and money needed to leave downtown for more congenial surroundings. In many cases the move became possible, or was hastened,
when children became old enough to add to family earnings. A study of pensioned clothing workers shows that 88% of the Russian Jews left the Lower East Side after residing in the area, on the average, for 15 years. In all likelihood those who became entrepreneurs lived on the Lower East Side for a briefer time. Indeed, between 1910 and 1915 the population of the Lower East Side declined by 14% and between 1915 and 1920 by a further 11%.
The most graphic instance of the growth of a new area of settlement is the case of the Brownsville-New Lots district of Brooklyn. A small group of Jews of German origin had settled in the village of New Lots. Only in 1885, however, did they establish a synagogue, Bikur Cholim (Temple Sinai). In 1886 real-estate promoters began dividing the farmland into lots for sale, and between 1890 and 1900 the Jewish population increased from less than 3,000 to more than 15,000. Five years later it had passed 49,000, and by 1916 the Brownsville-New Lots population had reached 225,490. It was served by 72 synagogues, all Orthodox.
In 1920, the primary immigrant quarter, the Lower East Side, was continuing to lose population at a rapid pace. Other areas of settlement, some of which had assumed features of the immigrant quarter, were beginning to lose population as well. Harlem was the outstanding instance. Around 1920 it passed its peak and began a steep decline as a large and culturally important Jewish neighborhood as its Jewish residents moved to the East Bronx and Washington Heights. In the Bronx, the direction was from the East Bronx and south-central region to the upper reaches of the Grand Concourse and the Tremont-Fordham areas. A similar trend occurred in Brooklyn. Though Brownsville and New Lots were still growing in 1920, the more affluent Jews were moving to leafy Eastern Parkway, Boro Park, Coney Island, and Flatbush. They were being replaced, at least in part, by a less affluent exodus from Williamsburg. By 1920 a socioeconomic hierarchy of Jewish neighborhoods had come into being.
The dispersion of Jewish population and the diversification of neighborhoods were indicators and facets of the process of acculturation.
In a number of fields the Jews of New York loomed large in the economy of the city. One group of German-Jewish families played an outstanding role in revolutionizing retailing. In the decade after the Civil War, fathers and sons entered the dry goods business and transformed their establishments into great department stores, which still bear their names. Bavarian-born Benjamin
and his sons Lyman and Joseph, both born in New York City, opened a dry goods store in 1872. By 1888, under the sons' direction, Bloomingdale's employed 1,000 people in its East Side emporium. On the West Side, the department store founded by
and his brother Morris expanded to the point where it required 1,600 employees. The giant in the field was R.H. Macy, which Isidore and
joined in 1874, becoming the sole owners in 1887 (Oscar, a third brother, had an interest in the business as well). Lazarus Straus and his three sons had migrated to New York from Georgia in 1865 and opened a pottery and glassware house that became the springboard to their association with Macy's. Stern's, Gimbel's, and the Brooklyn firm of Abraham and Straus (A&S) were also established during this time.
A significant number of German Jews entered investment banking. Closely knit by ethnic, social, and family bonds, they formed a recognizable group within the business community. Membership in the same temples and clubs, common philanthropic endeavors, and frequent marriages within the social set welded the group together, a fact that was important in their business dealings and led to frequent collaboration. Possessing excellent financial ties with banking interests in Europe – and especially in Germany – they were able to tap these sources for the U.S. market. Kuhn, Loeb & Company, under the leadership of
Jacob H. *Schiff
, was the leading house. But other firms achieved considerable standing in the financial world, including J. and J. Seligman & Co., James Speyer and Company; Goldman, Sachs & Company; Hallgarten and Company; and J.S. Bache and Company. Henry Lehman, an immigrant from Germany, had opened a small shop in Montgomery, Ala., in 1844. Two brothers joined him six years later. But the Civil War disrupted their business. When hostilities ended, the brothers moved to New York, where they helped found the Cotton Exchange. During the vigorous economic expansion of the second half of the 19th century, Lehman Brothers broadened its expertise beyond commodities brokerage to merchant banking. Building a securities trading business, they became members of the New York Stock Exchange in 1887. At the turn of the century, Lehman Brothers was a founding financier of emerging retailers like Sears, Roebuck & Company, F.W. Woolworth Company, May Department Stores, Gimbel Brothers, and R.H. Macy.
German Jews played a central role as entrepreneurs in the city's growing ready-made clothing industry. In 1888, of 241 such clothing manufacturers, 234 were owned by Jews and accounted for an annual product of $55,000,000. The needle trade was fast becoming New York's most important industry. In 1870 the city's factories and shops produced men's clothes worth $34,456,884. In 1900 the value of goods they produced reached $103,220,201, and during the same period their work force rose from 17,084 to 30,272. The growth of the women's clothing branch of the industry was more spectacular. The value of goods produced rose from $3,824,882 in 1870 to $102,711,604 in 1900. Where 3,663 workers were employed in 1870, 44,450 were employed in 1900. In 1913 the clothing industry as a whole numbered 16,552 factories and 312,245 employees.
East European Jews began streaming into the industry in the 1880s and by 1890 were the dominant element. They nearly completely displaced the German, Irish, and English craftsmen, as well as the German-Jewish manufacturers. One estimate, made in 1912, calculated that approximately 85% of the employees in the needle trades were Jewish.
Jewish Craftsmen in New York, 1890
|Tailors (Women's Coats)
|Gold + Silver Smiths
The immigrant Jews entered the apparel trade in such numbers because it was close at hand, required little training, and allowed the congeniality of working with one's kind. The contracting system, which became widespread in the industry by 1890, was responsible in large measure for these conditions. Contractors, acting as middlemen, received cut goods from the merchant or manufacturer, rented shop space (or used their own tenement flat), bought or hired sewing machines, and recruited a labor force. Generally, about ten people worked in these "outside shops" (in contrast to the larger "inside shops," where the manufacturer directly employed the work force and where working conditions were better). The minute division of labor that prevailed permitted the employment of relatively unskilled labor. In the intensely competitive conditions of the time – compounded by the seasonal nature of the industry – hard-pressed contractors recurrently raised the required "task" of garments for payment. Under these circumstances the notorious sweatshops developed with their cramped quarters and long hours of work. In 1890 the journalist and social reformer Jacob Riis wrote:
The homes of the Hebrew quarter are its workshops also… You are made fully aware of [economic conditions] before you have traveled the length of a single block in any of these East Side streets, by the whir of a thousand sewing-machines, worked at high pressure from earliest dawn till mind and muscle give out altogether. Every member of the family, from the youngest to the oldest, bears a hand, shut in the qualmy rooms, where meals are cooked and clothing washed and dried besides, the livelong day. It is not unusual to find a dozen persons – men, women, and children – at work in a single small room.
Until the turn of the century, a 70-hour work week was not uncommon.
Despite notorious abuses, the system of small shops on the Lower East Side had advantages for the new arrival. Old Country ties often played a role in the system and softened harsh conditions with an element of familiarity. Manufacturers set up fellow townsmen, landsleit, as contractors; contractors hired landsleit. Bosses who were practicing Orthodox Jews made allowances for the religious requirements of their workers. The smaller shops of the contractors, in particular, were closed on the Sabbath. Reuben Sadowsky, a large cloak manufacturer, not only closed on the Sabbath but encouraged weekday services in his factory. The production system with its extreme specialization also had its advantages. The new immigrant could master a subspecialty commensurate with his experience – or lack of it – and his physical stamina, and do so quickly. Finally, the very competitiveness and instability of the industry provided opportunities and hope. The ascent from worker to contractor to small manufacturer, categories not far removed from one another, beckoned to the enterprising and ambitious.
Although the needle trade was the largest single employer of East European Jews, Jewish immigrants found employment in other industries as well. Approximately 20% of the cigar makers in the city in the early 1900s were Russian Jews. The building boom attracted Russian Jewish builders, who opened the way for their countrymen to enter the field as craftsmen. At first, because of limited capital and the discriminatory practices of the craft unions, Jewish building activity was limited primarily to renovating old tenements. But in 1914, for example, when the Jewish painters were finally accepted into the Brotherhood of Painters and Paperhangers, 5,000 joined the union. An Inside Iron and Bronze Workers Union, organized in 1913 under the auspices of the United Hebrew Trades, had a membership of 2,000 in 1918. Branches of the food-processing industry – like baking and the slaughtering and dressing of meat – were "Jewish industries" because of the ritual requirements of kashrut. One of the oldest labor unions in the Jewish quarter represented the bakers. It had 2,500 members by 1918.
The compact Jewish settlements had a broad working-class base. A survey of the most heavily populated Jewish wards of the Lower East Side conducted by the Baron de Hirsch Fund in 1890 showed that 60% of those gainfully employed were shopworkers in the needle trades, 6.9% were shopworkers in other industries, 8.2% were artisans (mainly painters, carpenters, and tinsmiths), and 23.5% were tradesmen, nearly half of these being peddlers. Except for Hebrew teachers and musicians, no other profession was listed, and the latter group accounted for but 1.4%.
By 1920, however, the occupational and class structure had changed considerably. The change was expressed in a decrease in the number of blue-collar workers, an increase in the number of college students, the rise of a professional group of notable size, the growth in the magnitude and income of the mercantile class, and the consolidation of a wealthy stratum composed primarily of clothing manufacturers and real estate entrepreneurs. Jacob Lestchinsky, the sociologist and economist, suggested that in 1916 nearly 40% of all gainfully employed Jews in New York City were garment workers, while the total employed in all manual work was more than 50%. By the turn of the century, a majority of the students at tuition-free City College was Jewish, and in 1918 the proportion of Jewish students was 78.7% of total enrollment. In the College of Dental and Oral Surgery, the comparable figure was 80.9%, while at the city's college for women, Hunter, the proportion was 38.7%. In 1907, 200 physicians, 115 pharmacists,
and 175 dentists served downtown's Jews (the number of Jewish physicians in the borough of Manhattan rose from 450 in 1897 to 1,000 in 1907). To this group of professionals, add the growing number of lawyers. Evening law school – generally a two-year course of study – enabled a younger generation to prepare for a professional career while being self-supporting. The careers of
, labor lawyers and socialist leaders; Leo Sanders and Aaron J. Levy, active in Tammany politics; and Isaac A. Allen and Benjamin Koeningsberg, who were involved in Orthodox Jewish causes, indicate some of the avenues open to the young lawyers. Especially striking was the observation of
Isaac M. *Rubinow
, physician, economist, and statistician. Writing in 1905 he noted the growth of "Russian Jewish fortunes in New York," many of which ranged between $25,000 and $200,000. "Almost every newly arrived Russian-Jewish laborer comes into contact with a Russian-Jewish employer," he wrote, and "almost every Russian-Jewish tenement dweller must pay his exorbitant rent to a Russian-Jewish landlord." He was alluding to such wealthy clothing manufacturers as Joseph H. Cohen, Louis Borgenicht, William Fischman, and Israel Unterberg, and to real-estate developers like Harry Fischel and Nathan Lamport. It was within this context of a "Jewish economy" that the Jewish labor movement in New York developed and made its impact. Organizing the Jewish clothing workers – the primary sphere of trade-union activity – entailed dealing with a constituency that considered its occupation temporary and was conservative in temper to a large degree. It meant negotiating with a multitude of bosses and a host of elusive contractors. However, the fact that the trade-union struggle took place in New York and in the garment industry also made it a Jewish communal affair. This had its mitigating consequences. Clothing manufacturers like Joseph Cohen and William Fischman were also leaders of the community. Downtown social workers like
and their uptown sponsors, Jacob Schiff and
, were no less concerned with the good name of the community and the social integration of the newcomers. In the 1910s this led to a stabilization of the unions, vastly improved working conditions, and a pioneering formula of labor-industry relations. For the 20 years until the great strikes of 1909–16 the Jewish trade unions were weak and dispirited, despite occasional victories. The 1890 strike of the cloakmakers led by
was one such instance. The early success of the United Hebrew Trades was another. But ideological factionalism and seasonal apathy sapped the strength of the unions. From 1901 to 1909, the groundwork was laid, however, for the emergence of an aggressive, responsible, and socially progressive Jewish labor movement. The rising curve of immigration was drawing members and adherents of the
, who were deeply committed to trade-union work. The socialist Forward was developing into the most widely read Yiddish daily and becoming a major educational medium for the Jewish working class. The Jewish socialist fraternal order, the Arbeiter Ring (
's Circle), was gaining strength. The "uprising of the twenty thousand" – a strike of the waistmakers, mostly young women – in the fall of 1909 was followed by the "great revolt" of the cloakmakers a half year later. These strikes increased the numbers and the stability of the
*International Ladies Garment Workers Union
One tragic event in 1911, however – a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in lower Manhattan, in which 146 young women perished – led to sweeping changes in safety laws and gave a powerful impetus to the fledgling labor movement. The fire broke out near the end of a six-day, 52-hour workweek on the top three floors of a 10-story building. About 500 women, mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants, worked there behind locked doors making blouses. Within 15 minutes after the fire broke out, nearly 30% of the workers were killed. Firetruck ladders could reach only to the seventh floor. Firefighters held nets below, but so many women were jumping at the same time that the nets tore and did not hold them. Some rushed to the elevator shaft, hoping to escape by sliding down the cables, only to lose their grip. The owners of the business were acquitted of responsibility for the deaths, but in 1914, civil suits brought by relatives of 23 victims ended with payments of $75 to each of the families. The fire became the most vivid symbol of the struggle for workplace safety. As outrage mounted after the fire, the ILGWU intensified its demands for safer working conditions. New York established a Bureau of Fire Investigation and over the next three years enacted 36 safety laws.
In the summer of 1912, the furriers fought their battle for recognition. From January to March 1913 nearly 150,000 struck different branches of the apparel trades, but in particular the men's clothing industry. The strike led to the founding of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA). The strikes had much in common. High emotion and a deep sense of dedication marked them all. The scene of workers pouring into the streets from their shops at the appointed hour reminded the chairman of the cloakmakers' strike of the Jews leaving Egypt. Characteristic, too, was the climate of opinion: the Jewish labor movement succeeded in mobilizing broad material and moral support for the strikers both from its own ranks and from reform circles. In all instances, moreover, prominent Jewish communal leaders intervened and mediated between Russian Jewish labor leaders and Russian Jewish manufacturers. In the best-known case, the 1910 strike,
, Louis Marshall, A. Lincoln
, Henry Moskowitz, Jacob Schiff, and Meyer Bloomfield became involved at one point or another in mediating the dispute. In the furriers' strike,
Judah L. *Magnes
, former rabbi of Temple Emanu-El and chairman of the New York Kehillah, was instrumental in ending the dispute. He became permanent chairman of the conference committee of the fur industry and later chairman of the council of moderators of the men's clothing industry. Finally, in all cases, negotiations ended with some form of recognition for the union, a preferential or union shop, a smaller work week (generally 50 hours), a rise in wages, and arrangements for the continual arbitration of grievances. The latter
provision led to the creation of joint sanitation, grievance, and arbitration committees under the chairmanship of "impartial chairmen" aided by professional staffs, which supervised the enforcement of the decisions. This groundbreaking innovation in labor relations reflected a particular ethnic-economic reality and a particular Jewish group response.
In 1870 the New York Jewish community appeared to be well on its way to achieving homogeneity in form and content, directed by its Americanized element of German origin. For this group, Jewish communal life expressed itself in membership in a Reform temple, and sponsorship of Jewish welfare institutions. Lay leaders of the established community found in the institutional forms a way to maintain their Jewish identity in a manner they considered compatible with American practice. Though they drew upon Jewish communal traditions, these leaders were profoundly affected by the model of American liberal Protestantism with its emphasis on denominationalism, voluntarism, and morals rather than ritual.
By 1900 there were 14 Reform synagogues in the city: nine in Manhattan, one in the Bronx, and four in Brooklyn. In 1918 there were 16 Reform and 32 Conservative synagogues. These synagogues held services on weekends, sponsored one-day-a-week religious schools, and engaged university-trained rabbis. Their weekly sermons were reported by the leading newspapers as part of the notable sermons in the city's houses of worship.
Among the distinguished Reform rabbis who served in New York between 1870 and 1920 were Gustave Gottheil, Joseph Silverman, Judah L. Magnes, and Hyman G. Enelow at Emanu-El, David Einhorn, Kaufmann Kohler, and Samuel Schulman at Beth El (later amalgamated with Emanu-El), Aaron Wise, and Rudolph Grossman at Rodeph Shalom, Adolf Huebsch, Alexander Kohut, and Isaac S. Moses at Ahavath Chesed (later the Central Synagogue), and Maurice H. Harris at Temple Israel of Harlem (later on the West Side). The establishment of the Free Synagogue in 1907 as a pulpit for
Stephen S. *Wise
was a novel religious development, for its services were conducted on Sunday mornings at Carnegie Hall, and it also embarked upon a wide-ranging program of social service. Wise, who came to New York in 1907, and Magnes, who arrived in 1904, represented a new type of Jewish minister. American-bred and American-trained, they were young, excellent orators, and forceful – even daring – in espousing their causes and attracting large followings. Wise became best known for his attacks on municipal corruption and industrial conditions, while Magnes' main efforts were directed toward cultural and social improvements within the Jewish community.
During the last third of the 19th century, the established community built a number of large and progressive philanthropic institutions: general relief agencies, hospitals, oldage homes, orphan asylums, vocational training schools, and neighborhood centers. The outlook of these institutions reflected the receptivity of uptown's Jewish leaders to the social thought and patrician practices of the time. The emergence of scientific philanthropy, with its insistence on thorough investigation of the needy applicant, emphasis on economic and vocational rehabilitation, and espousal of the professionalization of welfare services, guided the policies of the older Jewish charities. So did the related sociological view of poverty that emphasized environmental factors, uplift, and "preventive work."
The United Hebrew Charities (UHC; formed in 1874 by six philanthropic societies) was illustrative of this development. In addition to poor relief, UHC operated an employment bureau and a vocational training school, granted loans to aid families launching small businesses, and maintained a work room where women were paid while they learned one of the garment trades. Its medical department employed a physician, visiting nurses, and social workers who handled home births and consumption cases. In 1911 UHC opened a bureau to meet the problems of family desertion. The agency's expenditures rose from $46,000 in 1880, to $153,000 in 1900, to $344,000 in 1917. In 1886, 2,500 applied for assistance, and in 1900, 23,264 asked for aid. Beginning in 1901, the number of families receiving material aid decreased steadily from 8,125 to 6,014 in 1916. The vast majority were by then Russian Jewish immigrants. (As late as 1885 the largest single group of applicants were of non-East European stock.) An excerpt from a Yiddish article published in 1884 suggests the gulf that existed between the "professional methods" employed in the uptown-sponsored institutions, and the immigrant clients:
In the philanthropic institutions of our aristocratic German Jews you see beautiful offices, desks, all decorated, but strict and angry faces. Every poor man is questioned like a criminal, is looked down upon; every unfortunate suffers self-degradation and shivers like a leaf, just as if he were standing before a Russian official.
Child care was a priority. Two of the leading institutions in the city were the Hebrew Orphan Asylum at Amsterdam Avenue and 136th Street, which in 1917 had a capacity of 1,250 children and an annual budget of $407,130, and the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society. The latter moved to Pleasantville, New York in 1912, where it introduced the "cottage plan," a model program. The uptown Jews were the sponsors of Mount Sinai Hospital. In 1904 it moved to its present site, Fifth Avenue and 100th Street. By 1916 the hospital had reached a capacity of 523 beds; its dispensary treated 243,161 patients.
These institutions were served by a distinguished group of lay and professional leaders. Lee K. Frankel and Morris D. Waldman of the United Hebrew Charities, Ludwig B. Bernstein of the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Orphan Asylum, Solomon Lowenstein of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, and Dr. Sigismund S. Goldwater of Mount Sinai belonged to the first rank of administrators. Philanthropists like Jacob H. Schiff, Irving Lehman, Isidore Straus, and George Blumenthal were intimately connected with the routine management as well as with the financing of the Montefiore Home, the
92nd Street Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA), the Educational Alliance, and Mount Sinai Hospital, respectively.
The notion that philanthropic institutions should be non-sectarian clashed with a second approach, which stressed the encouragement of Jewish cultural and religious activity. Supporters of the latter position debated such fundamental issues as the meaning of Americanization, the legitimacy of preserving the Old World heritage and its secular offsprings, and the nature of inter-group relationships within the New York Jewish community. These issues found their clearest institutional expression in the work of the Educational Alliance, the largest and most influential community center on the Lower East Side. In 1889 a number of uptown societies sponsoring Jewish cultural activities on the Lower East Side amalgamated and formed the Hebrew Institute. Four years later, reorganization led to a change in name, emphasizing its nonsectarian stand by replacing Hebrew Institute with Educational Alliance. Its official scope was "of an Americanizing, educational, social, and humanizing character." In 1897 the agency's president, Isidore Straus, explained that "our work may seem sectarian… [because] we have reached chiefly Jews, but this is due to the fact that the neighborhood is inhabited principally by Jews." Nevertheless, the Alliance did recognize the background of its constituents. The library and reading room were well stocked with Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian books and periodicals. A synagogue and a religious school were established as well. The Alliance followed on the heels of the founding of the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side by Lillian D. Wald in 1893. Wald, who became one of the most influential and respected social reformers of the 20th century, began teaching health and hygiene to immigrant women. Within a decade the Settlement included a team of 20 nurses and was offering an array of innovative and effective social, recreation, and educational services. In the early 1900s, the Alliance softened its attitude toward Yiddish and Yiddish culture.
Zvi H. *Masliansky
's discourses became a weekly event that drew large crowds, as did guest appearances by such Yiddish literary figures as Shalom Aleichem. Orthodox Jewish leaders, however, still viewed the Alliance as a bastion of Reform Judaism located in the very heart of their quarter, while to the radical intelligentsia it represented the "uptown's" use of charity and Americanization to silence social protest. Despite the opposition, Jews took advantage of the opportunities the institution opened for them. There were English-language classes and naturalization courses for adults, preschool instruction for newly arrived immigrant children, literary and civic clubs, music classes, and a children's orchestra, drama circles, and art exhibits. The Breadwinner's College, inspired by Thomas Davidson, a physical education program, and the Aguilar Free Library added to the appeal. During the first decade of the 20th century, as many as 37,000 people went weekly to the main building and to the two branch centers. Some of those who served as key members of the staff were David Blaustein, Henry Leipziger, Paul Abelson, and Belle Moskowitz. Similar agencies of smaller scope were the Jewish Settlement House and the Temple Emanu-El Brotherhood.
Important as uptown's welfare agencies were in aiding the immigrants, they at best complemented the communal order being created by the East European Jews. Transplanted religious institutions – synagogues, talmud torahs, and traditional charities – constituted a major part of that order. Mutual aid associations, fraternal orders, and benevolent societies provided other avenues of group endeavor. Finally, secular institutions spun a network of facilities, adding to the heterogeneity of Jewish life and enriching it intellectually.
In organizing their synagogues, the first and most typical communal undertaking, the immigrants mostly established congregations of landsleit, deriving their synagogues' names mostly from the congregants' town of origin. Landsleit congregations proliferated. In 1887 Moses Weinberger estimated there were 130 Orthodox congregations in New York City, by far the largest number on the Lower East Side. By 1902 the number of synagogues there had reached 254, and by 1917, 418. A 1917 study estimated that 40% of 365 congregations located in the older sections of the Lower East Side possessed traditional adult study groups, 45% free loan associations, 33% sick benefit societies, and 91% cemetery plots. Their average seating capacity was about 180. In addition, 50 to 70 "temporary" synagogues operated for the High Holidays on the East Side alone. In 1917 only 20% of the permanent congregations owned their synagogue building.
A few older synagogues gained stature as central institutions in the downtown community. They transcended the localism of landsmanshaft, though they still retained a regional identity. These included the Beth Hamidrash Hagadol on Norfolk Street, the Kalvarier Sons of Israel on Pike Street, the First Hungarian Congregation Ohab Zedek on Norfolk Street, and the First Roumanian Congregation Shaarei Shomayim on Rivington Street. (The Beth Hamidrash Hagadol is still located in the Norfolk Street building it acquired in 1888.) These larger synagogues were also among the minority of congregations able to support rabbis. In 1887 there were three or four East European rabbis in New York, and in 1917 the number may not have reached more than 50. Among the most prominent were Philip H. Klein of Ohab Zedek, Moses Z. Margolis of Kehillath Jeshurun of Yorkville, Shlomo E. Jaffe of Beth Hamidrash Hagadol, Simon J. Finkelstein of Oheb Shalom in Brownsville, and Gabriel Z. Margolis of Adath Israel, an East Side mutual aid and burial society. In 1917 the number of congregations in the newer centers of Russian Jewish population was: the Bronx, 35; Williamsburg, 49; and Brownsville and East New York, 70. All of New York City contained 784 permanent and 343 temporary synagogues. In 90% of them, Yiddish was the language of the sermon and of public announcements.
The plethora of small synagogues, the localism that produced them, and their constant precarious financial condition impeded their efficient operation and growth. Rivalries and vested interests compounded the situation and dogged all efforts at community collaboration. There were two signal attempts
at unity. In 1887 a number of Orthodox congregations federated for the purpose of creating a central religious authority to be headed by a chief rabbi. A renowned European scholar, Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Vilna, was installed as chief rabbi in 1888. The attempt failed, chiefly because of the inability of the chief rabbi and his supporting organization to establish communal regulation of kashrut and in the refusal of other rabbis to accept the chief rabbi's leadership. In 1902 Rabbi Joseph died in poverty. Under the auspices of the New York Kehillah (see below), a renewed effort was made from 1910 on to create an authoritative board of rabbis and to federate all Orthodox institutions in its support. Once again the supervision of kashrut was considered the key to its success. By bringing kashrut supervision directly under the purview of the board it was hoped that an assured income would be realized from the fees of supervision, which would then be used for financing neighborhood rabbinical courts, placing rabbis and other religious functionaries on the community's budget, and providing for Jewish religious education and other Orthodox needs. After early progress, the undertaking foundered. The community was too fragmentized; the struggle for a livelihood too consuming; and the Old World rabbis ill equipped to provide the kind of leadership required in the complex new conditions of the U.S.
Orthodox religious education suffered as a consequence. In 1909 the first systematic study of Jewish education, by Mordecai M. Kaplan, found that three-quarters of the Jewish children of school age received no religious education at all. Of those who did, 27% supplemented their public school sessions with attendance in 468 or more improvised, ungraded, one-room private schools, the ḥadarim. The level of instruction on the whole was poor; the ḥadarim were beyond the reach of any form of communal supervision. About 20% of those receiving Jewish instruction attended the city's 24 talmud torahs. Since these institutions were supported by independent associations and accepted children who could not pay the tuition fee, they were in effect communal schools, supported by small contributions from over 6,000 people. The eight largest schools averaged 881 students, and were generally superior to the ḥadarim. The most auspicious endeavor to upgrade the talmud torahs – by means of modern textbooks, a graded curriculum, modern pedagogical methods, improved preparation and remuneration of teachers – was sponsored by the Bureau of Education of the Kehillah beginning in 1910. Dr. Samson Benderly directed the bureau and Jacob H. Schiff and his family were its chief financial supporters. Benderly encountered considerable opposition from Orthodox circles who feared the bureau's interference with the independence of the talmud torahs and mistrusted it because of the religious views of its lay supporters and staff. Nevertheless, in its first seven years, the bureau achieved notable results. It recruited and trained a group of young educators, popularized the notion of communal responsibility for Jewish education, established model schools, and conducted educational research. The bureau survived the demise of the Kehillah.
The year 1912 saw the beginning of the Young Israel movement. Immigrants' sons, concerned with what they viewed as the erosion of Orthodoxy, sought to combat radicalism, Reform Judaism, and indifference to the tradition by making the Orthodox service more appealing to younger worshipers. In 1915 Yeshivat Etz Chaim and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary united, and the institution began to offer a general high school education as well as yeshivah studies.
The comradeship of landsleit and the wish for protection in case of disability or death produced a vast network of mutual benefit societies, benevolent associations, and fraternal orders. Originally part of the congregations, they increasingly developed into separate organizations, offering some form of insurance, sick benefits, and interest-free loans, as well as cemetery rights. In 1917 there were about 1,000 such independent societies in New York with an aggregate membership of over 100,000, many of which found it financially advantageous to affiliate with a fraternal order. The largest order in New York City was the Independent Order Brith Abraham, which in 1917 had 90,000 members in 354 lodges. Various ideological movements recognized the attractiveness of the fraternal order and organized their own. The Arbeiter Ring (Workmen's Circle), appealing to workingmen in the name of socialism and insurance benefits, had 25,000 members in the city, and Zionists and Labor Zionists each had their own fraternal order.
Landsmanshaft societies too began to form federations. The Galician Jews were the first, in 1903. The Polish landsmanshaftn united in 1908, while the Romanian Jews were split into two federations. In 1911 the Federation of Oriental Jews was established, reflecting the increasing numbers coming from the Ottoman Empire. These were loose groupings. The unifying factor was some joint effort at overseas aid and some major philanthropic undertaking. The Galicians supported the Har Moriah Hospital, the Polish Jews Beth David Hospital, and the Bessarabians the Hebrew National Orphan Home.
This concern for self-help and for one's own welfare agency also produced central institutions that came to be identified with the city's East European Jewish subcommunity as a whole, of which the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) was perhaps the most prominent. Beginning in 1909, when two older organizations merged to create it, HIAS expanded rapidly and succeeded in winning broad support in the immigrant community. Beth Israel Hospital, organized in 1890, was an instance of a downtown welfare facility whose standing became comparable to the older community institutions. It was founded in 1890 to provide services like kosher food and places for physicians of East European origin, neither of which were available at Mount Sinai Hospital. By 1917 it had 130 beds and a budget of $155,000. One of the most respected community-wide bodies was the Hebrew Free Loan Society, established in 1892. By 1916 it had branches in the Bronx and in Brooklyn, and had granted 24,330 loans, aggregating $711,940.
During the first decade of the century, influential leaders became increasingly aware of the social costs of institutional parochialism, profusion, and confusion. The sharp rise in immigration following 1903 underscored the need for more rational use of the resources and communal wealth. Uptown Jews, marginally identified with the total Jewish community, sought better ways to stem the social disorganization they sensed in the Jewish quarter and to expedite the integration of the immigrants. Some downtown leaders recognized the ineffectualness of their own institutions. In both sectors of the community some viewed with alarm the alienation of the younger generation from Judaism and Jewish life.
These concerns had led to two seminal events. The first was the short-lived New York Kehillah, an attempt to create a united community structure. The immediate catalyst was the accusation of police commissioner Theodore A. Bingham in 1908 that 50% of the criminals in the city were Jews. (Though the figure was exaggerated, crime in the Jewish quarter was a vexing problem.) Led by
, a coalition of representative leaders in 1909 established the Kehillah as a federation of Jewish organizations. Magnes served as chairman until its demise in 1922. The Kehillah created a number of bureaus, for education, social morals (dealing with crime), industry (concerned with labor relations), and philanthropy. In addition, it organized a rabbinical board and a school for training communal workers. The Kehillah's productive years, however, were brief. By 1916 it had encountered financial problems, which led to the separation of its bureaus. Ties to the elitist American Jewish Committee drew it into controversies over the establishment of an American Jewish congress. During World War I interest was diverted to overseas relief and international Jewish affairs, while Magnes' pacifist activity crippled his effectiveness as chairman and adversely affected the Kehillah. These factors made it impossible to overcome the fragmented state of organized Jewish life. Though a number of the activities the Kehillah initiated proved to be of lasting significance, its failure pointed to the impediments that lay on the path of community organization. No similar attempt would be made again.
The establishment in 1917 of the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropies, far more limited in scope than the Kehillah, proved more lasting. The federation movement to coordinate fund raising and encourage communal planning came late to New York, and from the early 1900s it encountered the opposition of the older philanthropic institutions sponsored by the German Jews, who feared it might impinge upon their independence. Some, moreover, objected to a federation of Jewish charities since such a grouping cast the pall of sectarianism upon their welfare agencies. However, the proliferation of East European institutions, the failure of the Kehillah as a device of social control, and the consequent threat to their own hegemony softened their opposition to federation.
As in other cities, the New York federation encompassed the larger welfare bodies and was therefore overwhelmingly a federation of the German-Jewish philanthropies primarily interested in nonsectarian social welfare work. Of the original trustees of the federation only three were East European; of 54 constituent societies, four belonged to the East European community. A smaller Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities was established in 1909. Its 1917 budget was $174,000 compared to the New York federation's budget of $2,117,410.
There were signs, however, that the New York federation might develop into more than a central fund-raising agency. Soon after its establishment, under the pressure of the group that had supported the Kehillah, the federation accepted five talmud torahs and the Kehillah's Bureau of Jewish Education as beneficiary agencies. This implied that the federation would concern itself not only with the relief of distress but with the support of Jewish cultural endeavor. Jewish education was to become a responsibility of the Jewish community's exchequer. The federation also indicated in its first year that it expected to become the spokesman of the entire community. But the statements proved little more than declarations of intention.
After 1900 Zionism and Socialism played, with varying success, many-sided roles in the organizational and cultural life of the New York Jewish community. In institutional terms, the Zionist achievements were minimal. The Federation of American Zionists, the Order Sons of Zion, Mizrachi, Po'alei Zion, the Jewish National Workers Alliance, Hadassah, and the Intercollegiate Zionist Association in 1917 numbered about 8,500 members who belonged to 95 loosely organized chapters. The influence of Zionism, however, went beyond membership figures. Much of the interest in Hebrew culture, Jewish education, and community planning stemmed from Zionist circles. Up to World War I the cultural Zionists who emphasized the need to revitalize Jewish cultural life in the Diaspora predominated. Judah Magnes, Israel Friedlaender, Henrietta Szold, and Mordecai Kaplan gave vigorous expression to this position from the lecture podium, in the press, and as professional and lay leaders of Jewish institutions. The socialist Po'alei Zion was similarly short on numbers and organizational success but strong on ideology and polemics. It constituted an intellectual force of significance at a time when the leadership of the Jewish labor movement was largely cosmopolitan and assimilationist in outlook. Following the outbreak of World War I, Zionists of all shades vastly increased their influence in the community through the Jewish congress movement. In June 1917, 125,000 participated in the election of delegates from New York City. The 100 delegates elected to represent New York's Jews were overwhelmingly of East European origin, the majority sympathizers of Zionism.
The Socialists, through the Workmen's Circle (Arbeiter Ring), possessed a stronger organizational framework than the Zionists. The order's 240 New York lodges and 25,000 members made it in 1917 the second-largest fraternal order in the city. Though the Workmen's Circle drew its membership from the Yiddish-speaking immigrants, it did not consciously identify itself with the Jewish community as a whole until World War I. During the war years Jewish Socialists began participating
in Jewish communal affairs. The Workmen's Circle, Jewish labor unions, and the Jewish Socialist Federation (12 branches in New York) were active in the local fund-raising campaigns for overseas relief. They also joined the American Jewish congress movement, and the Workmen's Circle in a principal policy change that undertook direct support of Jewish cultural activity like Yiddish schools.
The Yiddish-speaking masses who settled in New York created a rich and varied cultural life. No less than the community's institutional structure, this life aided the newcomers in their adjustment to the great metropolis. The very size of the immigrant community, its compactness and heterogeneity, and the impact of the new condition of freedom encouraged a multiplicity of cultural undertakings. Between 1872 and 1917, for example, about 150 journals in Yiddish appeared. Ideologues, literati, artists, and entrepreneurs competed in offering guidance, information, entertainment, and psychic relief for a generation in the throes of accommodation to a strange civilization.
The Yiddish-language daily press in particular served these ends (see
, Jewish, in U.S.A.). By the early 1900s, four stable dailies had evolved: the Orthodox and Zionist Tageblat; the
*Jewish Morning Journal
, Orthodox, conservative on social issues, and anti-Zionist; the radical and nationalistic Warheit; and the socialist
. In 1914 the
, pro-Zionist and liberal, was established; it absorbed the Warheit in 1919. The estimated daily circulation for New York City in 1916 was: Forward (149,170), Jewish Morning Journal (81,375), Warheit Tageblat (41,335). It was estimated in 1917 that nearly 600,000 people in New York City read the Yiddish newspapers daily. Besides the staple of general and Jewish news the papers contained serialized novels, literary criticism, political essays, and a woman's page. The Forward created the Bintl Brief column of personal woe and editorial advice. It was so successful that it inspired imitators in other papers. Editorials were slashing and polemical, frequently dealing with municipal problems and local Jewish affairs. The considerable advertising included notices of theaters, cantorial performances, books published, medicine and health aids, and, in the Jewish Morning Journal, want-ads. The Forward, in particular, sponsored communal undertakings like theater benefits and other fund-raisers.
The functions of the Yiddish press made its publishers and editors major communal leaders. Jacob Saphirstein of the Jewish Morning Journal was deeply involved in rabbinical politics. Leon Kamaiky, a proprietor of the Tageblat, was a vice president of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society and a member of the American Jewish Committee and the executive committee of the Kehillah. Forward editor Abraham Cahan's position in the Jewish labor movement was less formal but more powerful. Indeed, the preeminent place of the Yiddish press and its editors was recognized uptown. In 1902 Louis Marshall established the Yiddishe Velt in an effort to assert his group's influence. The initiative that led to the establishment of the Tog in 1914 came from the same circles and for the same reasons.
The role of the Yiddish press found its fullest expression in the Forward. Cahan was the great innovator and his paper the pacemaker of Yiddish journalism. His apprenticeship as a reporter for the New York Commercial Advertiser under Lincoln Steffens served him well in turning the Forward into the leading Yiddish daily. The simple, direct style of the paper, its humanistic, undogmatic brand of socialism and its eschewal of the Orthodox-baiting of earlier socialist journals won it great popularity. Cahan appealed to highbrow no less than lowbrow tastes, and side by side with the Bintl Brief he published virtually every Yiddish author of note. From 1912 the Forward occupied its own ten-story building on East Broadway, close to the Educational Alliance. The United Hebrew Trades, the Jewish Socialist Federation, and the Arbeiter Ring (Workmen's Circle) had their offices in the building. The Forward was the focal center of the Jewish labor movement, a powerful cultural factor in the community, and thus had become a force for Jewish group continuity. Yiddish was so ubiquitous that when Shalom Aleichem, the great storyteller, died in 1916, his funeral was one of the largest public events in New York history.
Weeklies and monthlies filled out the broad range of ideas, movements, and professional interests of the New York community. Some, like the Amerikaner and the IdisheGazetten, were weekly family supplements of existing newspapers. The anarchist Freie Arbeiter Stimme, the Zionist IdisheFolk, and the socialist Zukunft were representative of the literary and political journals sponsored by the various ideological camps. More local in their interests were journals published by the trade unions: the Fortschritt of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and Naye Post of the Joint Board of the Cloak and Skirt Makers Union. Catering to small audiences were the Hebrew journals Ha-Ivri and Ha-Toren, and the Ladino La America (see
, N. America). The Yiddish journals and dailies drew to New York and sustained a significant colony of intellectuals, writers, poets, and critics whose work was read in the press and discussed in the lecture halls and coffeehouses of the East Side.
The Yiddish theater reinforced the press. It was, Moses Rischin wrote, "educator, dreammaker, chief agent of charity, social center, and recreation hub for the family." Melodrama and romantic musicals depicted historical and topical events drawn from the classic Jewish past, the "old home," immigrant life in the New World, and current American affairs. Nearly all weekday performances were benefits raising funds for some charity, strike fund, or literary journal. About 1900, three theaters were devoted exclusively to Yiddish drama. Together with other houses giving occasional performances, they drew about 25,000 patrons a week. By 1917 the number of houses presenting Yiddish theater reached seven, including one in Harlem and one in Brownsville.
Jewish immigrant life in New York inspired some of the earliest belles-lettres by Jews in English, notably Cahan's Yekl (1896) and The Rise of David Levinsky (1917). For most second-generation
American Jews, Yiddish literature was a closed book, and Jewish themes in the language of the land were of peripheral interest. The Anglo-Jewish weekly The American Hebrew supplied the older settlement with a resume of Jewish news and social happenings. Its circulation was less than 10,000.
For Jews, as for all minority groups, election to public office meant social recognition and acceptance into the body politic of the city. Before the 1900s the number of Jewish officeholders was small, their posts for the most part minor, their ethnic identity an insignificant factor, and their political careers brief. Three Jewish congressmen were elected in New York City between 1870 and 1899, and all served but one term; the most prominent was Isidore Straus. Considerably more served in the state legislature. Among them was Joseph Blumenthal, who was a member of the Committee of Seventy, which played a role in the downfall of the Tweed Ring. Joseph Seligman and Simon Sterne were other members of that reform group. Blumenthal was a trustee and president of Shearith Israel and from 1886 to 1901 president of the board of trustees of the Jewish Theological Seminary. In municipal government Adolph L. Sanger, elected in 1885 as an anti-Tammany Democrat, served as president of the Board of Aldermen for one term. He, too, was active in Jewish communal affairs, serving at different times as president of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites and vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. In the 1890s Edward Lauterbach, a specialist in railway law and a director of a number of street railways, served for three years as chairman of the Republican County Committee. Lauterbach was a director of the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum and the Hebrew Technical Institute. Jews held minor judgeships prior to 1900, and only one, Albert Cardozo, served on the state Supreme Court. In 1871, in the wake of the Tweed scandals, Cardozo resigned to avoid impeachment (his son was
Benjamin Nathan *Cardozo
, on the Court of Appeals from 1914 until his elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1932).
In the years following 1900 the densely populated Jewish neighborhoods and the rising political awareness of the immigrants carried increasing political weight. That a number of assembly districts and several congressional districts had Jewish majorities or pluralities was reflected in the ethnic origin of the candidates, the particular issues raised, and the language of the campaigns. The number of Jewish voters was large enough to influence the outcome of city-wide elections. Though uptown Jews denied it, a "Jewish vote" existed. It was not prone to act en bloc, but nevertheless responded to group interests and ethnic pride and was unafraid to demand its political due.
Jews came of age as a political force during the domination of the Tammany Hall political machine. Led by astute and, if need be, ruthless politicians, Tammany offered a host of services in return for votes, and some of its leaders were attuned to the moods and needs of their Jewish constituents. Although a lag existed between Jewish numbers and numbers of Jewish officeholders, Tammany was sensitive to ethnic ambitions. In 1900 Henry M. Goldfogle went to Congress as representative of the Lower East Side, serving until 1921 with the exception of two terms. By 1910 Aaron J. Levy and Moritz Graubard were entrenched as East Side assemblymen, and Jews received 5 to 8% of the mayor's top appointments.
Support of Tammany was not, however, monolithic, particularly in mayoral and presidential campaigns. Anti-Tammany forces recognized this, and when mounting major reform campaigns, paid particular attention to the Jewish immigrant neighborhoods. In 1901, for example, the Fusion ticket flooded the Jewish districts with Yiddish circulars. Seth Low and William Travers Jerome were elected mayor and attorney general, respectively. Jacob A. Cantor, who had fought for tenement house reform as an assemblyman in the 1880s, was elected borough president of Manhattan as a Reform Democrat. The publisher William Randolph Hearst, in his effort to defeat the Tammany candidate for mayor in 1905, carried the Jewish East Side. His New York American had featured stories of Russian barbarism and solicited funds for the relief of pogrom victims. Hearst even launched a Yiddish newspaper for a time. John P. Mitchel, elected mayor in 1913 on a Fusion anti-Tammany ticket, won broad support in the Jewish districts. Henry Moskowitz, head of the Madison House Settlement and a native downtown reformer, became Mitchel's commissioner of Civil Service. The downtown voters exhibited similar independence in presidential elections. From 1888 to 1912 no party carried the Eighth Assembly District, heart of the Jewish quarter, twice in succession. However, Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, was a particular favorite.
Among the uptown Jews a group of patrician "good government" reformers emerged who helped finance these repeated efforts to dislodge Tammany. Among them were men like Nathan and
, who belonged to the Grover Cleveland wing of the Democratic Party, and liberal Republicans like Jacob Schiff,
Isaac N. *Seligman
. They assumed a particular responsibility for wooing their downtown brethren away from the "twin evils" of Tammany and socialism by supporting the reform candidates in their East Side campaigns.
Socialism indeed had a significant political following in the Jewish immigrant districts. On the Lower East Side the Socialists could count on a straight party vote of about 15%, and in some Jewish election districts in Brooklyn and the Bronx it may have been even higher. However, only when the party offered a candidate able and willing to appeal to the particular interest and ethnic sentiment of the East European Jew did it win at election time. In 1914 it sent Meyer London to Congress, the first socialist elected to the House of Representatives and the first elected socialist for any office from New York City. London, a lawyer for a score of Jewish labor unions, lived in the Jewish quarter, and thus spoke the language of the immigrant. He eschewed party dogma. Reelected in 1916, he won a third term in 1920 despite the fact that his party was then
in complete disarray. Of special interest were the elections of 1917. Morris Hillquit, the outstanding figure in the Socialist Party, showed remarkable strength in his bid for the mayoralty. He won 22% of the vote – twice that of the Republican candidate. Ten socialist assemblymen went to Albany, seven aldermen to City Hall, and one socialist, Jacob Panken, was elected municipal court judge. The vote reflected the strong anti-war sentiment among the East European Jews as much as it did socialist sentiment.
The war years expedited the social processes that molded a variegated and fragmented Jewish public into a more homogeneous ethnic community. The same processes integrated that community into the larger polity. War brought prosperity, which enabled families to leave overcrowded immigrant districts for a better, more "American" environment and so accelerated the process of acculturation. The war also confronted all Americans with the problem of their group identity, Americanized Jews of German origin no less than recently arrived East European Jews. Though it brought to the surface sharp tensions, the Jews of New York by 1920 could see themselves as a major group at home in the city.
Following World War I the Jewish population of New York City grew moderately to 1,765,000 in 1927 and to 2,035,000 in 1937. It tapered off around 2,100,000 in 1950, and slowly decreased as Jews moved to the suburbs of Long Island, Westchester, and New Jersey from the 1950s. By 1960 the Jewish population of the city had declined to 1,936,000, while that of the metropolitan area increased to 2,401,600, owing to the large growth in the suburban counties (see
*New York State
). The city's Jewish population, which fell further to 1,836,000 by 1968, was aging as younger families moved out. The move by Jews and other middle-class whites in search of more comfortable residences and greener neighborhoods was intensified from the mid-1950s by negative developments, primarily an increase in crime and racial tensions, a loss of confidence in the public schools, a perceived inadequacy of middle-class housing, and a decline of municipal services.
No less than during immigrant years, New York Jews preferred to dwell near one another. Thus, 676,000 of Brooklyn's 857,000 Jews in 1940 resided in areas where Jews formed 40% or more of the total population; and later, in 1958, 388,000 of the Bronx's 493,000 Jews were similarly concentrated. Anti-Jewish discrimination in the sale and rental of housing had been effectively quashed before 1950, except for isolated instances in opulent areas of Manhattan.
Within the city's five boroughs, Jewish population centers shifted as Jews abandoned highly congested Jewish areas and moved to more widely dispersed areas farther from the older, more centrally located neighborhoods. In 1918, 696,000 Jews (46% of the city's total Jewish population), lived in Manhattan. Most of them were on the Lower East Side and uptown in Harlem. Masses of Jews left the Lower East Side as their economic circumstances improved, mainly before the Depression of 1929. While 314,200 Jews lived on the Lower East Side in 1923, by 1940 only 73,700 remained. By 1960 about 70,000 Jews lived there, mainly in cooperative housing projects sponsored by Jewish-dominated trade unions, and made up 34% of the general population compared with 40% in 1930. West and East Harlem, for a time the home of wealthier immigrant Jews, had about 177,000 Jews in 1923. Immediately thereafter Harlem became a black neighborhood; fewer than 5,000 Jews remained in 1930 and in 1940, only 2,000.
Many Jews from Manhattan and other areas moved north to the more recently settled Bronx, where in 1918 they totaled about 211,000. By 1927 about 420,000 Jews lived there, primarily in its south and south-central districts, where they made up 40% and 70%, respectively, of the general population in 1925. By 1937 the Bronx Jewish population rose above 592,000, making that borough 44% Jewish. As new subway lines and apartment buildings were built, Jews moved increasingly to more northerly and less populous regions of the Bronx. The number of Jews in the South Bronx fell from 34,200 in 1923 to less than 15,000 in 1960. Tremont, in the west-central Bronx, which had 121,000 Jews (96% of its total population) in 1925, dropped to about 44,000 before the 1960s, most of whom also left the area during the decade that followed. However, nearby Fordham rose from 13,600 Jews in 1923 to 83,350 in 1930 and 103,000 in 1960, about 48% of the general population. The middle-class West Bronx Jewish population increased from 26,000 in 1923 to 142,886 in 1940. It declined to 121,000 in 1960, when it was still 65% of the general population, and this downward trend continued. The Jewish population of Pelham Parkway, in the northeast Bronx, rose from 3,000 in 1923 to 65,000 by 1960, or 48% of the general population, and continued to rise. Following the general trend toward the suburbs, Jews began leaving the Bronx in the 1950s, so that by 1968 only 395,000 Jews remained, with new concentrations in the outlying Van Cortlandt and Riverdale areas.
From the 1920s Brooklyn became the borough most heavily populated by Jews as the number rose from 568,000 in 1918 to 797,000 in 1927. In contrast to Manhattan and the Bronx, Brooklyn tended to be a borough of well-defined neighborhood communities. Jewish religious life in Brooklyn apparently was more active than in other boroughs. While the older Jewish neighborhoods in the northern and western regions of Brooklyn began to lose their large Jewish populations by the 1930s, Jews were moving outward to form vast new communities in the central, southern, and eastern sectors. Thus, Williamsburg, across the East River from Manhattan, a community in which Jews numbered 140,000 in 1923, had only 33,400 Jews in 1957, though even as its population declined, it attained some celebrity as the home of a large Hasidic colony of post-World War II immigrants from Hungary and Eastern Europe. Bedford-Stuyvesant's 70,000 Jews in 1923 declined below 30,000 in 1957 and fell further in the 1960s as the area became a low-income African-American neighborhood. In 1925 about 250,000 Jews, or 82% of the population
of the area, lived in East New York-New Lots-Brownsville. However, only 96,000 remained in 1957, and most of those left during the 1960s as Brownsville became predominantly black. On the other hand, in central Brooklyn the number of Jews in Boro Park increased from 46,000 in 1923 to 67,000 by 1950, in Bensonhurst from 45,000 in 1923 to 85,000 by 1950, and in Flatbush from 16,400 in 1923 to 123,000 by 1950. Sheepshead Bay in southern Brooklyn had 7,100 Jews in 1923 but 48,000, or 62% of the population, by 1950. Residential, middle-income Midwood-Marine Park grew from 3,200 Jews in 1923 to 64,000 by 1957. Jews settled early in the southern Coney Island-Manhattan Beach area, which was nearly 70% Jewish in 1940 when 53,400 Jews resided there. From the 1930s Jews also began to settle the eastern Flatlands-Canarsie area, whose Jewish population rose from 4,400 in 1923 to 28,000, or 60% of the population, in 1957.
Altogether, the Jewish population of Brooklyn began to decrease, dropping from its heights of 975,000 in 1937 and 950,000 in 1950 to 760,000 in 1968. Thus Crown Heights, close to Bedford-Stuyvesant, dropped from over 75,000 in 1950 to 58,400 by 1957, and similar drops occurred after World War II in Bensonhurst and Coney Island. The heavily Jewish East New York-New Lots area, in which 106,000 Jews lived in 1923, decreased to 74,000 Jews in 1950; it rose again, however, to 90,000 by 1957 with the construction of new housing on unoccupied land. Boro Park, long a center of Orthodox Judaism, became strongly Ḥasidic with an influx of Williamsburg Ḥasidim.
The borough of Queens saw a sustained increase in its middle-to upper-middle class Jewish population, owing to its newness, relative remoteness from the center of the city, and the rapid building of large apartment-house complexes like Lefrak City and other red-brick edifices constructed by Samuel J. LeFrak and his organization. While only 23,000 Jews lived there in 1918, the Jewish population grew to 200,000 by 1950 and 420,000 by 1968. Over 200,000 Jews moved there during the 1950s and large Jewish concentrations developed in Forest Hills-Rego Park, which had over 73,000 Jews, or 66% of the general population, by 1957; the Whitestone area, which had 24,000 Jews in 1957; Central Queens, in which 51,000 Jews lived in 1957; and Douglaston-Little Neck-Bellrose, which had 31,500 Jews in 1957. About 18,200 Jews lived in the Rockaways on the shore in 1923, and nearly 30,000 lived there by 1957.
About 5,000 Jews called the little-settled, isolated borough of Richmond (Staten Island) home in 1918, and that number increased moderately. In 1950 about 8,000 Jews lived there, but by 1968, after the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge between the borough and Brooklyn, their number reached about 11,000.
The Jewish population of Manhattan declined from the 1920s. In 1937 there were 351,000 Jews on the island, while only 250,000 remained in 1968. Nevertheless, several neighborhoods increased. The number of Jews in well-to-do cosmopolitan sections of the West Side rose from 21,300 in 1923 to 71,000, or 29% of the general population, by 1957. Washington Heights, the uptown residential area, had 31,500 Jews in 1923 but nearly 70,000 by 1957. It was the center for German Jewish refugees of the 1930s. Nearly all Manhattan Jewish neighborhoods experienced declines in the 1960s, however, except the expensive, rebuilt Upper East Side, where Jews increased from 22,000 in 1940 to 42,000 in 1958.
The movement to the suburbs raised the Jewish population of rapidly built Nassau County, across the city boundary, from unknown but small numbers before 1940 to 329,000 in 1957 and 372,000 in 1963. Many families achieved the American dream of owning their own home by obtaining low interest loans offered to veterans of World War II and by buying the low-price, mass-produced homes of William and Alfred Levitt, who created a vast Levittown (17,311 nearly identical homes built between 1947 and 1951) in Long Island. Following already established city patterns, Jews tended to dwell together in suburban centers like Great Neck and Roslyn on the North Shore of Long Island and Woodmere, Cedarhurst, Lawrence, three of the Five Towns, and Baldwin and Hempstead on the South Shore. Beyond Nassau lay Suffolk County, in which the previously negligible Jewish population reached 12,000 in 1957 and 42,000 in 1963, with significant increases thereafter.
New York Jewry formed so large a proportion of the city's population that Jewish economic habits and aptitudes broadly influenced the city's economy. Jewish labor in the garment industry, the city's foremost industry, reached its peak at about 1920. In 1921, production of men's apparel in New York City was valued at $326,832,000, and of women's, $759,628,000. The value of allied industries like knit goods, was put at $83,490,000. Perhaps 200,000 Jews belonged to the trade unions of the garment industry. From this point, the proportion of Jewish workers in the clothing industry steadily declined, until in the men's clothing branch it reached 39% in 1937; the new working group was largely composed of Italian women and, later, Puerto Ricans. The same process operated in the ladies' garment industry. One large local of the ILGWU was about three-quarters Jewish in the 1940s but declined to 44% in 1958. Jews remained in the garment industry in upper levels of skill as cutters and sample makers, and also as entrepreneurs and salesmen. The city, whose Garment Center epitomized the apparel business, provided the setting for the emergence of Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Anne Klein, Arnold Scaasi (Isaacs backwards), Liz Claiborne, and Donna Karan, among others, in the design and marketing of men's and women's clothing. One woman, Helena Rubinstein, virtually created the cosmetics industry. After World War I, she opened beauty salons around the country, selling pots of face creams and other products. She trained sales people to teach women skin care and devised a diet plan for beauty. An ardent supporter of Israel, she created the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion of Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv, and her foundation, created in 1953, provided funds to organizations concerned with health, medical research, and rehabilitation.
The Jewish labor movement in New York, after its heroic era of strike victories during the 1910s, was firmly established by 1920. The unions turned back attempts between 1920 and 1922 to reestablish the open shop. However, they were beset during the 1920s by violent factional quarrels with Communists. The latter derived support not only because of their tactical and propagandistic skill but also from post-World War I Jewish immigrants who entered the industry and felt somewhat excluded by the established union leadership and ideology. Communists secured control of the New York Joint Board and led it into a series of disastrous strikes culminating in 1926. The union was left in ruins and did not reestablish itself until the New Deal period. The Amalgamated was more fortunate, however, in maintaining its unity and power. A third garment union, the International Fur Workers' Union, succeeded in its trade-union objectives under Communist leadership, while the United Hat, Cap and Millinery Workers did likewise under liberal leaders.
During the 1920s the New York Jewish unions entered areas of activity never previously known to U.S. trade unions. They conducted large-scale adult education, ran health clinics, owned a bank and summer resorts, built model urban housing, and generously subsidized struggling trade unions in such other industries as steel, coal, and textiles. Except for their Communist wing, they became pioneers of liberal political action, thus preparing a place for themselves in New Deal political and legislative affairs.
The Jewish immigrant generation was heavily represented as workers – 23% "operatives and kindred" and 16% "craftsmen, foremen, and kindred" as late as 1950. The 32% who were "managers, officials, and proprietors" included a mass of shopkeepers and small businessmen. Jewish retailers were especially heavily represented in such areas as candy and stationery stores, grocery stores, hardware stores, haberdashery stores, tailor shops, and delicatessens and small restaurants. An incomplete estimate placed Jewish trade-union membership about 1928 at 134,000 of a total of 392,000 concentrated, in addition to needle and leather trades, in amusement and food preparation and distribution.
The immigrants' children, however, shifted towards sales and clerical occupations and independent business; in 1950, 55% of immigrants' sons were in these groups, and only 22% remained in traditional working-class occupations. One important channel of ascent was New York's excellent public school and college system. Jews constituted 51% of enrollment in the city's academic high schools in 1931, and 49.6% of the city's college and university students in 1935. As early as 1915 they were 85% of the student body in the city's unique free municipal college system, a percentage that probably did not decrease before 1960; others attended college outside the city. This higher education launched thousands of young Jews from poor or very modest circumstances into independent business and the professions. During the 1950s about 17% of New York Jews, including the older, immigrant group, were professionally employed.
Areas of Jewish economic activity often were clearly demarcated. Thus, the port of New York, shipping and other transportation, large banks and insurance companies, and heavy industry hardly employed any Jews. Even after the removal of discriminatory employment policies in 1945, there were few Jews in these industries. Small, independent businesses, the garment trade and light industry employed masses of Jews, and Jewish entrepreneurs could be found in those fields as well as in real estate, building, and investment banking. By the 1930s, over half the city's doctors, lawyers, dentists, and public school teachers were Jews, notwithstanding sharp anti-Jewish discrimination in certain universities and schools. After World War II, Jews became strong components of the city's mercantile and professional class, heavily represented in academic, scientific, and civil service organizations. Reflecting their occupational changes, they formed a large part of the membership and most of the leadership in unions of teachers and other public employees.
As the largest single ethnic group, Jews were a highly important factor in the political life of the city. Jews, who were about 27% of the city's population, were outnumbered only by the Irish-dominated Catholics, who were just over half. In no other city could Jews as a group weigh so heavily in politics, or were real or alleged Jewish political interests reckoned with so carefully. Until the 1930s the city was governed through the Manhattan organization of the Democratic Party, known as Tammany Hall, which held the support of most immigrants, including Jews. Jewish Republicans, conspicuous by their low numbers, pursued interests in civic reform, like Stanley M. Isaacs and Nathan Straus Jr., and the party's New York County leader, Samuel S. Koenig. In addition, Jews in East Harlem during the 1920s supported that district's dynamic U.S. Congressman,
Fiorello H. *La Guardia
, a rebel Republican. On the far left, Jews dominated the Socialists and Communists. Jews generally followed the Democratic Party, and some received the rewards of party loyalty – personal and business favors, municipal appointments, and judgeships.
The period from 1928 to 1945 witnessed far-reaching change. Jews had heavily supported Alfred E. Smith, a liberal Tammany reformer of Irish stock, in his successful campaigns for the governorship of the state and unsuccessful attempt for the presidency in 1928. The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 brought New York Jewry overwhelmingly behind the New Deal and the Democratic Party. Support for
Franklin D. *Roosevelt
during his presidential campaigns of 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944 ran from 80% to 90%, higher than among any other group in the city. The urban liberalism of the New Deal had many of its seeds in the Jewish trade unions, East Side settlement houses, and among Jewish philanthropists and social workers. New York Jews were enthusiastic for the New Deal Democrat,
Herbert H. *Lehman
, elected to the governorship in 1932, 1934, 1936, and 1938, and the German immigrant New Deal Senator, Robert F. Wagner. La Guardia, a Republican,
gained the mayoralty of New York in 1933 by the votes of Italians, Jews, mostly of middle-class reform sympathies, and upper-class good-government supporters. Of Italian stock but partially Jewish in descent, and fluent in Yiddish, La Guardia's mastery of ethnic politics succeeded by 1937 in attracting the Jewish working class and left wing for his municipal version of the New Deal. During La Guardia's incumbency, from 1934 to 1946, Jews figured more prominently as city officials and political leaders. As fervent supporters simultaneously of the Protestant aristocrat Roosevelt, the Jewish banker Lehman, and the Italian commoner La Guardia, New York Jews preferred liberal, reform-minded candidates and avoided Republicans unless they significantly differed from the generally conservative habits of that party. The American Labor Party (founded in 1936) and the Liberal Party (organized in 1944), served their intended purpose of drawing voters of the left, especially Jews, to liberal or left-liberal candidates.
Following La Guardia's tenure, the major parties adopted a policy of "ethnic balance." They regarded it as necessary to nominate a Jew, Irishman, and Italian for the three city-wide electoral offices. Under the non-Jewish Democratic mayoralties from 1945 to 1966, Jews remained firmly and prominently Democratic. During most of this period, Jews were elected city-wide comptrollers (Lazarus Joseph,
Abraham D. *Beame
), presidents of various boroughs (Abe Stark), and to the powerful position of county surrogates as well as other local judgeships. In 1965, the reigning Democrats for the first time nominated a Jew, Beame, for the mayoralty, but largely owing to a considerable Jewish defection to John V. Lindsay, the Republican reformer, Beame lost. As the number of blacks and Puerto Ricans in the city increased, Jewish and other white influence began to decline. But Jews, well-established, assimilated, and with money to finance political campaigns, continued to be major players.
Jews and other minorities suffered widespread discrimination by the hiring practices of banks, insurance companies, large corporations, law firms, and department stores, some of which were even owned by Jews. Several private universities and professional schools also imposed stringent admissions quotas against Jews and others, but the professional schools at the city's Catholic colleges enrolled a high proportion of Jews. Social discrimination against Jews, on the other hand, was so firmly fixed that even the most notable Jews could not belong to many of the city's leading business and social clubs, some of which their grandparents in fact had helped to found. Long-continued pressure, primarily from New York City and led by Jews, resulted in the passage of the state's Fair Employment Practice Act in 1945 prohibiting discrimination in employment. It was the first such law in the U.S.
After World War II, as the Cold War gripped the nation, Jews in New York figured prominently in the signature event of that period. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, husband and wife, and members of the Communist Party, went on trial in 1951 for conspiracy to commit espionage, specifically for transmitting nuclear weapons secrets to Russian agents. Largely based on testimony by David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg's brother, the couple were convicted and sentenced to death by Federal Judge Irving Kaufman. The assistant United States attorney prosecuting the case, Roy Cohn, stated in his autobiography that he had influenced the selection of the judge and had pressed him to impose the death penalty on both defendants. Kaufman held the Rosenbergs responsible not only for espionage but also for deaths in the Korean War. The case became the center of controversy over communism in the United States, with supporters steadfastly maintaining that the convictions were an egregious example of persecution typical of the hysteria of those times. Some likened it to the witch hunts in Salem, a comparison that provided the inspiration for Arthur Miller's critically acclaimed play, The Crucible. Despite appeals on humanitarian grounds from Pope Pius XII and others, the Rosenbergs were executed in the electric chair in 1953, both steadfastly maintaining their innocence. The case lingered in the public consciousness for decades, but in 1995, when decrypted Soviet communications became publicly available, the evidence indicated that Julius Rosenberg was actively involved in espionage, but there was no evidence that he was involved in the specific charges against him or that his wife was involved at all.
Antisemitic organizations existed spasmodically in New York City. The Ku Klux Klan barely appeared during the 1920s. The pro-Nazi Friends of New Germany and its successor, the German-American Bund, were active from 1934 to 1941 against fierce Jewish and pro-democratic opposition. The same held true of the contemporary "Christian Front," led by Joseph E. McWilliams and Father Edward Lodge Curran, a leading propagandist, which was close to Father Charles E. Coughlin's antisemitic movement. It conducted antisemitic street meetings and fostered petty hooliganism. These groups collapsed during World War II, following which organized antisemitism was virtually unknown for some 20 years. From about 1965 black militants, on the outer fringe of the civil rights movement, fostering and feeding upon black-Jewish frictions, helped stimulate the renewal of antisemitism. A climax was reached during the New York City teachers' strike of 1968, when some blacks made openly antisemitic remarks about the union and its leadership. The inclusion of antisemitic material at the same time in an exhibit on Harlem at the Metropolitan Museum of Art also proved highly provocative. Anti-Zionist statements from black militants and members of the New Left that emerged in the 1960s became difficult to distinguish from antisemitism. At the same time Jewish militants led by Rabbi
organized the Jewish Defense League, a vigilante "self-defense" group. Ironically, two young New York Jews, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, seeking to registers black voters in Mississippi, were killed in one of the watershed events of the civil rights struggle. It took decades for their killers to be brought to justice. Significantly, New York Jews were in the forefront in raising funds for civil rights causes across the country (see
in the United States).
Between 1940 and 1965, New York's black population tripled as a great wave of migrants poured in from the South. Older black neighborhoods like Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant could not accommodate the newcomers, and blacks moved into adjoining areas like Ocean Hill-Brownsville, from which whites, including large numbers of Jews, promptly fled. In 1963 and 1964, at the height of the movement to integrate New York's public schools, Jews in Brooklyn and Queens joined with white Catholics to form Parents and Taxpayers, a militant antibusing organization that eventually had half a million members. The group, known as PAT, staged massive demonstrations and even established a separate private academy. Its efforts were instrumental in the defeat of integration initiatives in the public school system. In response, black leaders sought to control their neighborhood schools. In 1967, the Board of Education began an experiment in community control of schools in the predominantly black Ocean Hill-Brownsville area, where residents elected a local board to run their schools. The local board soon clashed with the United Federation of Teachers over the extent of its personnel powers. The local board claimed the power to hire and fire teachers and administrators; the union argued that only the central board could do so.
In 1968 a junior high school science teacher, Fred Nauman, who was a chapter chairman of the 90%-white, majority Jewish, union, was fired. The action resulted in three citywide teacher strikes aimed at reinstating Nauman and nine counionists, who were also fired. The strikes lasted two months in all, affecting almost two million children, and they would be the most bitter in the city's modern history, full of charges of racism, union-busting, and antisemitism. The strikes pitted the city's white middle class, which backed the union, against the city's black poor and supporters of the community control idea. Mostly, the issues pitted blacks against whites, specifically blacks against Jews. The conflict exposed hidden fissures between the races. The strikes ended in mid-November 1968, substantially on the union's terms: the teachers were reinstated and the community control experiment was discontinued. But the controversy went beyond that. It helped to redefine the politics and culture of the city for decades. Outer-borough Jewish voters shifted to the right, moving closer to their white Catholic neighbors. The patrician mayor, John V. Lindsay, lost support in the wake of Ocean Hill-Brownsville, losing almost 60% of the Jewish vote, previously his strength. The city's next mayoral election, in 1973, produced its first Jewish mayor, Abraham D. Beame, elected with strong Jewish and Catholic votes.
The great growth of New York and its suburbs would not have been possible without Robert Moses, the master builder of the 20th century. Although he never held elective office, Moses was probably the most powerful person in New York City government from the 1930s to the 1950s. He changed shorelines, built roadways, and transformed neighborhoods. His decisions favoring highways over public transport helped develop Brooklyn, Queens, and the suburbs of Long Island. Moses rose to power under Al Smith after catching the eye of the governor's top assistant, Belle Moskowitz. In several assigned tasks, Moses excelled, particularly the development of Atlantic Ocean beaches, pools, and parks at Long Island's Jones Beach, a recreation area without peer that accommodated thousands year after year. After Franklin D. Roosevelt became president, Moses anticipated the availability of New Deal dollars and secured funding for a host of projects. At one point, one quarter of federal construction dollars was being spent in New York, and Moses had 80,000 people working under him. He built hundreds of parks and recreation facilities, but just one pool in Harlem. His highway projects on Long Island followed a circuitous path so as not to cross the properties of wealthy land owners, all the while he demolished numerous middle-class neighborhoods throughout New York City. During the Depression, Moses and La Guardia were responsible for the construction in the city of 10 large swimming pools; they could accommodate 66,000 swimmers. At one point Moses held 12 separate city and state titles. For the city he was parks commissioner, and for the state he was chairman of the Long Island Parks Commission and Secretary of State as well as chairman of the New York State Power Commission, responsible for building hydroelectric dams. By doling out contracts and making deals, Moses built support from construction firms, insurance companies, labor unions, and real-estate developers. He used his influence to put projects on fast tracks, a tactic later repaid by legislators with funds for other projects. Moses controlled most public housing construction projects, but exercised vast power as chairman of the Triborough Bridge Authority. The bridge connects the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens and the income earned from tolls helped Moses finance projects like the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, a vehicle link to Manhattan. After La Guardia's retirement, a series of mayors agreed to almost all of Moses' proposals. From the 1930s to the 1960s, Moses was responsible for the building of the Throgs Neck, Bronx-Whitestone, the Henry Hudson and the Verrazano Narrows bridges. His other projects included the Staten Island Expressway, the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the Belt Parkway, the Laurelton Parkway, and many more. In the 1960s, he was the mover behind Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets baseball team, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. After a series of questionable decisions involving the 1964-65 World's Fair, Moses' power began to wane. His high-handedness and arrogance, depicted in Robert Caro's biography, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974), which won the Pulitzer Prize, presented Moses with a different face.
In the years after World War I, New York retained its unchallenged position as the center of U.S. Jewish life. After World War II, the city became the capital of the entire Diaspora, as Zionist and other Jewish movements established their main offices in New York. The organizations sponsored rallies and mass meetings on behalf of overseas Jewry, sometimes attracting more than 100,000 people.
Jacob H. Schiff 's death in 1920, Judah L. Magnes' withdrawal about 1918, and his removal to Palestine in 1922 left as the most representative New York figures Louis Marshall (d. 1929), Felix M. Warburg (d. 1937), and Stephen S. Wise (d. 1949). The former two were distinctly "uptown" leaders, Marshall a lawyer and Warburg a banker-philanthropist. Wise, a Zionist and Reform rabbi, was closely linked with liberal political and religious movements and drew much of his strength as an urban populist spokesman for the mass of working and lower middle-class Jews. His personal stature and influence was the source of much of the influence of the
*American Jewish Congress
, which he reestablished and headed from 1930 as a politically liberal, activist, pro-Zionist counterweight to the "uptown" bodies, the
*American Jewish Committee
in particular. Much of the Congress' importance was lost with Wise's death and the softening of social and ideological differences after 1945. Moreover, the Committee eventually broadened its communal base and retracted the anti-Zionism it had adopted during the preceding decade. The ambitious attempt to coordinate communal life in the Kehillah ended by 1920, and by then New York Jewry had acculturated with much rapidity and formed a proportion of the city's ethnically and religiously diverse population.
Virtually every Jewish organization had chapters and members in the city, including landsmanshaftn and benefit societies, lodges, cultural bodies, charitable groups, political causes, Zionists, and synagogues, so that the total number of Jewish organizations probably exceeded 4,000 before the 1940s; with the disappearance of many lodges, benefit societies, and small immigrant synagogues there was probably a decrease thereafter. Altogether the city's Jews constituted an agglomeration of social classes, ideologies, clustered interests, and institutions, possessing Jewish identification in varying degrees of intensity.
Alongside vigorous local activity on behalf of such national or worldwide causes as Zionism, there were fairly distinct although overlapping spheres of interest. The Federation of Jewish Philanthropies served the poor and dependent. All of the federation-affiliated hospitals and many other institutions associated with it were nonsectarian. The federation's original 54 affiliates numbered 130 by 1968, and included: hospitals, institutions for the aged and chronically ill, casework agencies, summer camps, Young Men's and Women's Hebrew Associations and neighborhood centers, and the Jewish Education Committee. Affiliates also received funds from patient and client fees, the Greater New York Fund, government assistance, and direct contributions and endowments. Service to the increasing number of aged and to troubled families (through the Jewish Family Service, successor to the United Hebrew Charities), and recreation and informal education for middle-class youth and adults slowly replaced the earlier relief services. The Jewish hospitals, some of which were rated among the world's finest, totaled about 7,000 beds in 1968. They included Mount Sinai, Montefiore, Joint Diseases (orthopedic), Brooklyn Jewish, Long Island Jewish, Jewish Hospital for Chronic Diseases, Beth El (renamed Brookdale), Beth Israel, Maimonides, Bronx-Lebanon, Hillside, and Jewish Memorial. In addition, Jacobi Hospital, a municipal hospital, was attached to Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein Medical School, and Mount Sinai Hospital opened a medical school in 1968 as a unit of the City University of New York.
Life centered on Yiddish institutions typified by the daily Forward, the Workmen's Circle, Yiddish cultural societies and schools, the
*Jewish Labor Committee
after 1934, and the scholarly institution,
, held on, tenuously. Perhaps the foremost writer in Yiddish of that period was Isaac Bashevis Singer, who emigrated from his native Poland to New York in 1935 and who continued to write in the mother tongue for The Forward before achieving widespread recognition in English translation (and the Nobel Prize in literature in 1978). The early associations with Jewish trade unionism lessened as Yiddish secularism became a cultural and fraternal middle-class movement. Hebraists, centered in the
and the weekly Hadoar, and closely tied to Zionist and educational affairs, had a smaller group of adherents. Composed largely of writers, Hebrew teachers, and rabbis, the Hebrew group shrank as the reality of Hebrew in Israel took hold.
Religion played a major role in daily life, especially for the Orthodox. In several neighborhoods, particularly Boro Park, Crown Heights, Williamsburg, and sections of Flatbush in Brooklyn, as well as the Lower East Side even in its decline, Sabbaths and Jewish holidays provided an opportunity for Jews to assert their identity. Orthodox synagogues were full, stores in heavily Orthodox areas were shut, even those owned by non-Jews, and sectors of the garment and diamond industries regularly closed. The commerce and industry of the city came near a standstill on Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. Beginning in the 1960s the public schools closed on those days because Jews, who formed a majority of the teaching staff, absented themselves.
In 1967 there were 539 Orthodox, 184 Conservative, 93 Reform, and five unclassified synagogues known in Greater New York; all but 163 of the total were within the city's boundaries. Actual synagogue affiliation tended to be low, however. A study of Brooklyn suggested that merely one-quarter of its Jews belonged to synagogues in 1945–46, a proportion that probably differed little in other boroughs.
The Reform movement, using a good deal of English in the prayer book, liberal in social outlook, and generally wealthier than the immigrant community, attracted regular worshipers to its major temples, some of which were monumental or historic. Temple Emanu-El continued to be foremost because of its size, wealth, and prestige, and occupied a splendid edifice at Fifth Avenue and 65th Street from 1929. Other major congregations included the Central Synagogue (whose building at Lexington Avenue and 55th Street dated to 1870), the Free Synagogue, Rodeph Shalom, Shaarey Tefilah (West End Synagogue until its transfer from the West Side to the East Side of Manhattan in 1959), Union Temple and Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, and Central Synagogue in Rockville Centre
(Nassau County). The older congregations did not share much in the movement within Reform toward more traditional worship. But many Reform Jews became active philanthropists. From the 1950s there was a gradual shift in the Reform movement toward liberal social and political action as a major goal, but there were objections and Temple Emanu-El left the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in protest at this direction. The foremost Reform rabbi was Stephen S. Wise, who in 1922 founded the Hebraic and Zionist-oriented Jewish Institute of Religion (JIR), which opened in 1925. Although the JIR intended to train rabbis for all denominations, most of its graduates went to Reform congregations. The notable early faculty included Salo W. Baron, R. Marcus, H. Slonimsky, S. Spiegel, C. Tchernowitz, and others, but the school declined after its first decade. Other New York Reform rabbinic notables included Samuel Schulman, Jonah B. Wise, Louis I. Newman, Bernard J. Bamberger, Samuel H. Goldenson, Julius Mark, Charles E. Shulman, and Edward E. Klein.
By the 1940s Orthodoxy in New York lost its intimate association with immigrant life, and tended to be divided internally between modernists oriented to the problems of Orthodox Judaism in a secular, scientific, urban society, and others indifferent or hostile to such concerns. The latter stressed piety, study, and aloofness from non-Orthodox Judaism. The modernist trend included such congregations as Kehillath Jeshurun, The Jewish Center, Fifth Avenue Synagogue, Riverdale Jewish Center, and such rabbis as Leo Jung, Emanuel Rackman, Joseph H. Lookstein, Simon G. Kramer, Walter S. Wurzberger, and Irving Greenberg. The "pietist" group was led mainly from yeshivot and was augmented by Ḥasidic immigration from the 1940s. Special Orthodox segments were the S.R. Hirsch school of German Orthodoxy, transplanted in 1938–40 to upper Manhattan under the leadership of Rabbi Joseph Breuer, and Sephardi congregations, largely in Brooklyn, composed of contemporary immigrants from Turkey, Greece, Syria, and Iraq. The venerable Shearith Israel continued under the ministry of H.P. Mendes, D. de Sola Pool, and L.C. Gerstein. The common institutional effort of Orthodox Jewry was the promotion of yeshivot, whose enrollment multiplied from below 2,000 in 1920 to approximately 5,000 in 1935, 8,000 in 1945, and 45,000 in 1968. Yeshiva College became Yeshiva University in 1943 under the leadership of Samuel Belkin, and expanded to include several high schools, the college, graduate and professional schools, and a medical school. Its yeshivah brought notable rabbinic scholars from Europe to serve as principal rashei yeshivah, the first two being Rabbis S.H. Polacheck and Moses Soloveichik; Joseph B. Soloveichik later succeeded his father. Other notable Orthodox yeshivah scholars and talmudists were Rabbis Joseph E. Henkin, Moses Feinstein, Jacob Kamenetsky, Moses A. Shatzkes, and Aaron Kotler.
The city's Conservative congregations leaned close to Orthodoxy, in which most of their members had been raised. The Jewish Theological Seminary was the focal institution of the Conservatives, and exercised broad spiritual influence. Partly owing to the influence of Mordecai M. Kaplan, Conservative synagogues also served as community centers, offering social, cultural, and recreational activities. The Jewish Center and the West Side Institutional Synagogue in Manhattan, both Orthodox although founded by Kaplan, began the trend. The Society for the Advancement of Judaism (Reconstructionist), B'nai Jeshurun, and Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan and the Brooklyn Jewish Center, Flatbush Jewish Center, and East Midwood Jewish Center in Brooklyn replicated this approach, which was continued in many large newer synagogues in Queens and the suburbs. The Conservative growth was greatest in Queens and the new suburban towns, where 145 of their 184 synagogues were situated in 1967. Rabbinic leaders, besides Kaplan, included Israel Goldstein, Max Drob, Israel H. Levinthal, Harry Halpern (d. 1981), Robert Gordis, Ben Zion Bokser, Milton Steinberg, William Berkowitz, and Judah Nadich.
The Jewish Division of the New York Public Library and the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary (damaged by fire in 1966) were two of the six or seven leading Jewish libraries in the world. No other city of the Diaspora offered such an abundance of Jewish scholars, books and manuscripts, and varied opportunities for study in a communal milieu that was profoundly Jewish.
The city was home to one of the greatest educational achievements of modern times, and it had a lasting effect on the individuals, the city, and the nation. Four colleges, City College and Hunter in Manhattan and Brooklyn and Queens Colleges, offered free tuition to qualified students. In the years when top-flight private schools were restricted to the children of the Protestant Establishment, thousands of indigent but brilliant Jewish New Yorkers attended the colleges. For struggling immigrants and their offspring, this proved an unparalleled opportunity to gain a first-rank education, prepare for life's challenges, and to broaden skills. Building on the accomplishments of earlier graduates like Bernard Baruch in finance and Felix Frankfurter in law, the colleges prepared students in the sciences, government, economics, education, political science, and the law. Beginning with Julius Axelrod, of the class of 1933, City College nurtured nine Nobel Prize winners, all of them Jewish, in economics, chemistry, physics and medicine, a figure unmatched by any public institution in the United States. All nine obtained their undergraduate degrees between 1933 and 1950. Across a wide path, the colleges educated such nationally recognized figures as Daniel Bell in sociology, Nathan Glazer and Irving Kristol in politics, Ira Gershwin, the lyricist, Bernard Malamud, the writer, Stanley Kaplan, founder of Kaplan Educational Services, the actors Edward G. Robinson, Judd Hirsch, Zero Mostel, Eli Wallach and Richard Schiff, and business and technology giants like Andrew Grove of Intel. Graduates of the city colleges rose to prominent positions on Wall Street as teachers, administrators, union officials, journalists, accountants, etc., becoming the backbone of the educational system, the economy, and society in general, all for the cost of subway fare. During the
1930s and through the 1950s, the colleges were bastions of free debate, with roiling political discussions over hot topics like communism vs. socialism and Trotskyites vs. Bolsheviks dominating campus activities. In the last years of the 1930s, as fascism threatened to dominate Spain, a contingent of New Yorkers (many of them leftist Jews recruited from the college campuses) made up the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and set off for Spain to "save" the country from Generalissimo Francisco Franco. These idealists, whose cause was dominated by Communists and other left-wingers, proved unsuccessful. In the late 1960s, black and Puerto Rican activists and their white allies demanded that the City University colleges implement an aggressive affirmative action program. The administration came up with an open-admissions plan under which any graduate of a New York City high school could matriculate at one of the 20 colleges in the system. But that program came at a high cost, as the colleges' academic standing declined (along with the number of Jews, now more affluent and able to afford private, out-of-town schools).
Still another important achievement in higher education involved the founding of the University in Exile at the New School for Social Research. From 1933 until the end of World War II, the University in Exile served as a base for scholars who had been dismissed from teaching and government positions by totalitarian regimes in Europe. The university later became the New School's Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, providing an academic base for notable scholars like the psychologists Max Wertheimer and Aron Gurwitsch and the political philosophers Hannah Arendt and Leo Straus.
New York provided the launching pad for the nation's feminist movement, beginning with the publication of Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique in 1963. At the time a suburban New York housewife, Friedan analyzed "the problem that has no name," as she called it, based on interviews with women unhappy with their lot as housewives, babysitters, cooks and laundresses, and with limited career prospects. The book struck a nerve, providing the intellectual basis for the feminist movement. It permanently transformed the social fabric and consciousness of American society. Friedan was joined by more than two dozen women, including Gloria Steinem, in founding the National Organization for Women, and was its first president, serving from 1966 to 1970. The two Jewish women became the best-known figures in the feminist movement in the United States. Friedan's death in 2006 reminded generations of women of the debt they owed to the founding mother of feminism, who campaigned tirelessly for equal treatment of women in the workplace and in all areas of public and private life.
The half-century following the end of World War I witnessed the entry of Jews in large numbers into every corner of New York artistic and cultural life. Since this period also marked the growing domination by New York City of U.S. cultural life in general, and in some areas, such as theater, music, and publishing, its virtual monopolization, New York Jews prominent in these fields found themselves automatically at the center of national attention. The role of New York Jews as consumers of the arts also grew immensely. From the 1920s on, Jews formed a disproportionately high percentage of New York's theatergoers, music listeners, book purchasers, and art collectors. (One rough estimate placed Jews at 70% of the city's concert and theater audience during the 1950s.) Similarly, Jews also emerged in these years as major patrons of the arts. After World War II, particularly, they played a prominent part in endowing and supporting local cultural and artistic institutions.
In literature many Jewish writers of the 1920s and especially of the Depression years of the 1930s drew on their backgrounds in the immigrant communities to write memorable novels, essays, poetry, and short stories in the realms of social realism and "proletarian fiction." Left-wing Jewish intellectuals like Sidney Hook, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Philip Rahv, and Michael Gold wrote for The Nation, The New Masses, The New Leader, and Partisan Review. Some of the best descriptions ever written of New York life in the early and mid-20th century, especially of its immigrant neighborhoods, can be found in books like: Samuel Ornitz' Haunch, Paunch and Jowl (1925), Henry Roth's Call It Sleep (1934), Michael Gold's Jews Without Money (1930), Alfred Kazin's On Native Grounds (1942) and A Walker in the City (1951), Bernard Malamud's The Assistant (1957), Paul Goodman's The Empire City (1959), and the novels of Joseph Heller and Wallace Markfield (see
*United States Literature
, Jews in).
The poetry of Louis Zukofsky was suffused with the atmosphere of New York life, while Kenneth Koch was a leader of the school of "New York poets" in the 1960s. In the years after World War II, the 92nd St. YMHA served as a center for readings of modern American poetry and for the introduction to a wide public of a number of young contemporary poets. Perhaps no poet commanded the attention of the general public as did Allen Ginsberg (d. 1997), who created a storm with his first published work, Howl (1956), a long poem about consumer society's negative human values. "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness" was the opening line, and Ginsberg, a homosexual and leader of the Beat generation, drew on Walt Whitman and others for inspiration. He famously wrote about his relationship with his mentally disturbed mother in Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1961).
The Broadway musical theater and the world of popular music from the late 1920s through the 1960s were dominated by Jewish composers and librettists: Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Frank Loesser, E.Y. (Yip) Harburg, and the teams of Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Lerner and Loewe. Many entertainers got their start in vaudeville, including Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, the Marx Brothers, George Jessel, Fanny Brice and Sophie Tucker, and then transferred their talents to radio, the movies and television. Brooklyn-born Barbra Streisand attained fame on Broadway as a singer and actress before becoming a Hollywood star and director. The leading Broadway playwrights
of the 1930s and 1940s, Lillian Hellman, Clifford Odets, and Elmer Rice, achieved renown with their searing, realistic dramas, while George S. Kaufman, Abe Burrows, and Moss Hart, among others, lightened the stage with bon mots and witty comedies. Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949) won recognition as the best drama produced on the American stage in the second half of the 20th century. A series of popular comedies by Neil Simon, beginning with The Odd Couple (1968), achieved critical and popular success. In 1931, Lee Strasberg co-founded the Group Theater, a company that spawned such theatrical legends as John Garfield and Stella Adler, and in 1949 Strasberg started the Actor's Studio, where Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman, and Eli Wallach trained. During this period, all the major Broadway theaters were owned and controlled by members and descendants of the Shubert family, which earned fees for the use of the theaters and sometimes became involved in producing the shows. Although others owned some Broadway theaters, the Shubert organization, by the 1970s, owned half of all the houses. Beginning in the mid-1960s Joseph Papp promoted the idea of offering free performances of Shakespeare in the parks of New York. His long campaign led to the founding of the Public Theater, supported by commercial Broadway productions like A Chorus Line. The Shakespeare performances continued well into the 21st century with major actors taking on classic roles in Central Park. David Merrick dominated the Broadway stage, producing successful musicals and straight plays for more than 20 years. Sol Hurok, who began his career organizing local Jewish productions in Brooklyn's Brownsville, developed into the leading musical impresario in the U.S. The avant-garde Off Broadway theater came into its own in the 1960s and provided venues for talented writers and actors. The Living Theater of Julian Beck and Judith Malina and the Open Theater of Joseph Chaikin staged a variety of provocative productions.
Indicative of the impact of Jewish audiences on the New York theater was the fact that a number of Broadway hits of the 1950s and 1960s were on Jewish themes, the most successful of all being the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Set in the fictional shtetl of Anatevka, the musical drew on the short stories of Shalom Aleichem about Tevye the dairyman. Zero Mostel's over-the-top portrayal of the central character became the talk of the town. The musical, written by Joseph Stein, and the music, by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, dominated the airwaves and graced stages around the world as it offered a universal message about family life in troubled times. A young Stephen Sondheim began his career as a composer by writing the lyrics for the smash West Side Story (1957), which had a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and was produced, choreographed, and directed by Jerome Robbins. The plot borrowed liberally from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and became a staple of the musical repertory. After the 1920s, the Yiddish theater in New York lost much of its vitality. In 1928 there were at least 11 Yiddish theaters, giving hundreds of performances a month, but the number dwindled to a mere handful and only occasional productions by the 1960s.
The New York musical world, both classical and popular, served as a showcase for a host of Jewish talent. Jews, who made up 70% of the membership of the musicians' union, Local 801 from the 1930s on, held most of the important instrumentalist chairs of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and the National Broadcasting Company Symphony Orchestra, which was led by Arturo Toscanini during its heyday. The leading musical performers included the conductors Artur Rodzinski, Bruno Walter, Lukas Foss, and Leonard Bernstein; the opera singers Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill, Jan Peerce, Roberta Peters, Beverly Sills, and Friedrich Schorr; the pianist Vladimir Horowitz and the violinist Isaac Stern. In the 1960s, with the assistance of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Stern led a successful drive to save Carnegie Hall, one of the greatest musical venues in the world. Their effort preserved the New York landmark, which had one of the clarion sounds in the world of music. Although Benny Goodman, one of the most important jazz clarinetists, was born in Chicago, it was in New York that he came to prominence. In 1938, Goodman and his group of swing musicians were booked to play in Carnegie Hall, then a citadel of upper-crust society and "high-class" music. Carnegie Hall had a seating capacity of 2,760 and Goodman's concert had been sold out for weeks. The concert started off on a polite, though tepid note. But when the group tore into Sing Sing Sing, an energetic, rhythmic and bouncy tune, the audience responded with deafening applause. That concert came to be regarded as the most significant in jazz history, proving that jazz could be accepted by mainstream audiences. Goodman was also responsible for a significant step in racial integration in the United States. In the early 1930s, black and white jazz musicians could not play together in most clubs or concerts. In the Southern states, racial segregation was enforced by Jim Crow laws. Goodman broke with tradition by hiring Teddy Wilson to play with him and the drummer Gene Krupa in the Benny Goodman Trio. In 1936 he added the black Lionel Hampton on vibes to form the Benny Goodman Quartet.
The financier Otto Kahn was a leading financial backer of the Metropolitan Opera in the 1920s and 1930s, while Morton Baum helped found the City Center for Music and Dance and was instrumental in the establishment of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. One of the premier American classical composers, Aaron Copland, got his start in Brooklyn. Lincoln Kirstein paired with the genius of George Balanchine, a non-Jew, to shape 20th-century dance. Kirstein thought of the idea of the New York City Ballet, which became one of the foremost dance companies in the world. It was solely responsible for training its own artists and creating its own works. The company had 90 dancers, making it the largest dance organization in the United States and into the 21st century had an active repertory of more than 150 works, many choreographed by Jerome Robbins, who created serious dance works as well as choreography for the Broadway theater.
In the early 1960s, a young singer-songwriter from Hibbing, Minn., drifted into Greenwich Village and changed the
nature of popular music. Originally Robert Zimmerman, he took the name Bob Dylan and performed his own compositions of story songs that quickly gained notice for their fierce political nature and their poetry. His "Blowin' in the Wind," about the changes looming on the American landscape, became one of the anthems of the civil rights movement as well as for the anti-Establishment postcollege generation in the wake of opposition to the war in Vietnam. Dylan's whining delivery of his protest songs, and his adoption of acoustic techniques, also influenced generations of musicians. In the late 1960s, following Dylan's success, the team of Simon and Garfunkel, songwriters and performers from Queens, achieved enduring popularity after their music ("Mrs. Robinson," "The Sound of Silence") was featured in the movie The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichols.
In painting, the Soyer brothers – Raphael, Moses, and Isaac – and Chaim Gross were prominent in the social-realistic art movement that flourished in Greenwich Village in the 1920s. Ben Shahn and Jack Levine were among the many Jewish artists whose early careers were associated with the art programs of the Works Projects Administration during the Depression years. The Nazi persecution brought to New York a number of German expressionist painters, including Max Weber. Prominent in the "New York School" of abstract expressionists and other movements that developed after World War II were Franz Klein, Larry Rivers, Louise Nevelson and Mark Rothko. In the 1960s, the Jewish Museum diverged from its tradition of exhibiting Jewish art only to sponsor a number of important avant-garde shows of sculpture and art. The far-flung and diverse Guggenheim family played a major role as patrons. Peggy Guggenheim moved her gallery from Europe to New York during the war years and her uncle, Solomon Guggenheim, endowed a new building for the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art on upper Fifth Avenue. The only building in New York designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it opened in 1960 and quickly became one of the architectural landmarks of the city, if not the nation. In 1969 Robert Lehman's world-renowned collection of impressionist and post-impressionist painting was willed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York was the home, and the canvas, for a slew of important photographers: Richard Avedon (fashion), Helen Levitt (street life), Weegee (crime), and Diane Arbus (people on the fringes of society). Richard Meier, Paul Rudolph, Robert A.M. Stern, Gordon Bunshaft, Marcel Breuer, and Frank Gehry cut their architectural teeth in New York during this period.
In WEVD, established by the Jewish Daily Forward in 1931 and named with the initials of the socialist Eugene V. Debs, New York boasted the world's only full-time Yiddish radio station, though by 1970 much of its programming had gone over to English. Gertrude Berg, Fanny Brice, Morey Amsterdam, Walter Winchell, and Barry Gray, New York radio personalities, became household names. Berg wrote and starred in The Goldbergs, a series about Jewish life in the Bronx. From the show's opening – "Yoo hoo, Mrs. Goldberg!" – listeners got a brace of Jewish New York, complete with mannerisms and Yiddish. The series transferred successfully to television. An entire school of television comedy, often deriving from the comic routines of the "Borscht Belt" (see
*New York State
), gave professional life to performers like Sam Levenson, Sid Caesar, and Jerry Lewis. But it was Milton Berle, with his Tuesday night variety show, who almost single-handedly changed the nation's evening habits. Television was in its infancy when Berle, broadcasting from New York, wowed audiences week after week, interrupting acts, dressing in drag and participating in skit after skit. Audiences found him outrageously amusing and flocked to buy their own television sets, millions of them in the postwar years. Berle, or Uncle Miltie as he called himself, was known as Mr. Television. The National Broadcasting Company signed him to a 30-year contract, and Berle, who started in show business at the age of 4, continued to perform into his 90s.
Thanks to television, a "new breed" of comedian found favor with more sophisticated audiences. They were social commentators and satirists of common situations. Their styles varied widely, from the comedy sparring of the team of Nichols and May to the storytelling of Alan King to the obscenity spewing Lenny Bruce to the kvetching of the stage milquetoast Woody Allen to the angst of Shelley Berman. Jewish humor, in cabarets, nightclubs, on television, and in the movies, found a broad American audience.
At that time, the three major commercial television networks, the Columbia Broadcasting System (William Paley), the National Broadcasting Company (David and Robert Sarnoff), and the American Broadcasting Company (Leonard Goldenson), were run by Jews.
From the 1920s on, Jews played a prominent role in the New York publishing business, among them Horace Liveright of Liveright & Boni. B.W. Huebsch and Harold Guinzberg of Viking Press, Henry Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster of Simon & Schuster, Alfred Knopf of Alfred A. Knopf, Bennett Cerf of Random House, Roger Straus of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and Jason Epstein of Anchor Books. The German-Jewish house of Schocken Books moved to New York City in 1946. Bloch Publishing Co., Thomas Yoseloff, and Abelard & Schumann put out a largely or wholly Jewish line. Brooklyn was the launching pad for the literary career of Norman Mailer, who wrote the signature book of World War II, The Naked and the Dead. Irwin Shaw, a prolific writer of short stories, got his start in Brooklyn as well. And beginning in 1955, New York was home to Elie Wiesel, the memoirist of the Holocaust and campaigner for human rights, who settled in the city after his liberation from Buchenwald. Wiesel wrote most of his more than 40 published works in the city.
In journalism, the unparalleled international coverage and national reporting of The New York Times, under the patronage of the Ochs and Sulzberger families, won widespread respect, proven in 90 Pulitzer Prizes and other recognized awards. Its publisher throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, was a staunch anti-Zionist who opposed the creation of the State of Israel. He saw Judaism as a religion only
and he had a series of disputes with the leading American Jewish organizations over the newspaper's coverage. Particularly galling, in retrospect, was The Times' coverage of the Holocaust and Hitler's campaign against the Jews, which received limited space in the "paper of record." After the 1956 war in the Middle East, the newspaper's coverage of Israel got serious attention and its reports competed for space with all other news developments. The New York Post during the 1940s and into the 1960s, under the ownership of Dorothy Schiff, a descendant of Jacob Schiff, and the editorship of James Wechsler, gave voice to liberal and underdog causes while walking a financial tightrope. Numerous reporters came to prominence during World War II, the Korean War, and the war in Vietnam, including David Halberstam, Meyer Berger (About New York), Bernard Kalb and his brother Marvin Kalb, A.M. Rosenthal (There Is No News From Auschwitz, he famously wrote in The Times in 1958), Joseph Lelyveld, the son of a rabbi, and Max Frankel, a Holocaust survivor. The Yiddish press flourished despite declining circulations in the 1920s and 1930s, but lost ground steadily in the years after World War II. Three New York periodicals with nation-wide audiences were also under Jewish ownership or editorship: The New Yorker, The Village Voice, and the New York Review of Books.
and Midstream, published under the auspices of Jewish organizations, had influential readerships (see
, Jewish, in U.S.A.). The Newhouse family played a major role in publishing as owners of newspapers and a plethora of national magazines, based in New York.
After World War I, Jews took a greater interest in popular sports, both as spectators and as performers. Hank Greenberg, a product of the Bronx, achieved renown as a home-run slugger (58 in one season) at a time when there were few Jews in major league baseball. Sandy Koufax, one of baseball's greatest pitchers, pointedly refused to pitch a World Series game on Yom Kippur. Although he was not observant, Koufax said he felt he had to be a role model. Among other well-known New York athletes were the boxers Benny Leonard and Barney Ross, the baseball players Harry Danning, Sid Gordon, and Cal Abrams, the football quarterback Sid Luckman, and the basketball star and coach Nat Holman. One of the signature events in sports occurred during Holman's tenure at City College, which fielded a basketball team assembled from the regular student body, not players recruited for their athletic ability. In the 1950–51 season, City College, known as the "Cinderella team," won the two most important basketball titles of the time, the National Invitational Tournament and the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship. But the celebrations were short-lived when it was disclosed that certain players on the team had "shaved" points, or played to reduce their margin of victory, at the behest of gamblers. It was a watershed moment in basketball, in the lives of the players, Jewish and non-Jewish, some of whom went to prison, and the college, which was forced to de-emphasize basketball.
(For biographies of the figures mentioned above, see individual entries.)
Jewish involvement in New York cultural life in the middle decades of the 20th century was so complete that it had an impact on local speech, gestures, food, humor, and attitudes. It is doubtful if anywhere else in the history of the Diaspora such a large Jewish community existed in so harmonious a symbiosis with a great metropolis, without either isolating itself from its surroundings or losing its own distinct sense of character and identity. If the Jews gave to New York unstintingly of their experience, energies, and talents, they received in return an education in urbanity and a degree of cosmopolitan sophistication unknown to any other Jewish community of similar size in the past. When 20th-century New York Jews thought of the city they lived in, they did not simply consider it a great capital of civilization that had generously taken them in; rather, they thought of themselves as joint builders of this greatness and one of its main continuing supports. Such a relationship marks a unique moment in Jewish history, and one that, given current cultural and demographic trends in the United States and the world at large, is not likely to recur again.
[Lloyd P. Gartner, Hillel Halkin, Edward L. Greenstein, and Yehuda Ben-Dror /James Marshall (2nd ed.)]
At the center of international finance, politics, entertainment, and culture, with a nearly unrivaled collection of museums, galleries, performance venues, media outlets, international corporations, and financial markets, New York, the Big Apple, has long attracted large numbers of immigrants, as well as people from all over the United States. They settled in the city because of its culture, energy, cosmopolitanism, and economic opportunity. Perhaps the most compelling reality of the eight-county New York area Jewish community (the five counties of New York City and Westchester County, Nassau County and Suffolk County) at the tail end of the 20th century was its sheer size. The New York area was home to the largest Jewish community in the world outside of Israel: 643,000 Jewish households; 1,412,000 adults who consider themselves Jewish and children being raised as Jews; and 1,667,000 people living in Jewish households, including non-Jews (typically spouses who are not Jewish or children not being raised as Jews).
Kings County (Brooklyn) with 456,000 Jews led the way in a 2002 survey by Jewish Community Studies of New York, followed by Manhattan with 243,000, Nassau with 221,000, Queens with 186,000, and Westchester with 129,000. Suffolk with 90,000, the Bronx with 45,000, and Staten Island with 42,000 Jews had the smallest Jewish populations. One out of eight individuals in the eight-county New York area was Jewish. In the United States as a whole (including New York), nearly one person in 50 was Jewish. Of all the Jewish communities in the United States, only Los Angeles was home to more Jews than the borough of Brooklyn. Manhattan and Nassau County each had more Jews than either the Boston or Philadelphia areas. During the 1990s, the population remained essentially stable: the number of Jewish households
increased by less than 1% and the number of Jewish people decreased by less than 1%. But the number of people in Jewish households increased by 7%, from 1,554,000 in 1991 to 1,667,000 in 2002.
The city, despite a 5% decrease in population, towered as the geographic hub of the Jewish community, providing leadership and guidance in social, recreational, health, cultural, and educational programs, as well as delivering major philanthropic support from virtually all fields of endeavor. Unlike other Eastern and Midwestern Jewish communities, where suburbanization changed the geography of Jewish life, most Jewish households–70%–were found in the city proper.
During the 1990s, however, there were substantial geographic shifts: greener, more affluent, car-friendly Westchester County recorded a 41% increase in the number of Jews from 1991 to 2002. Both Brooklyn, where large-family Ḥasidim and Russian immigrants flourished, and once-remote Staten Island experienced significant increases, 23% and 27%, respectively. The Bronx, despite a stable – and vibrant – Jewish community in Riverdale, showed a 45% decline, continuing a decades-long trend. Smaller declines occurred in Queens (20%) and Manhattan (21%).
During the 1990s, there were substantial changes in the composition of the population. In 1991, children made up 22% of the community while seniors aged 65+ made up 16%. In 2002, the community included about the same percentage of children younger than 18 but seniors were 20%. In addition, reflecting greater longevity because of advances in health care, those 75 or older more than doubled after 1991, from 5% to 11%. One organization, the Jewish Association for Services to the Aged, beginning in 1968, became a prime social-service agency in the city and suburbs, with assistance on home, housing, and legal services on a nonsectarian basis, to help sustain the elderly in their homes and communities and to offer opportunities for a better quality of life.
Unlike Jewish communities in other parts of the United States, New York's was a mix of different kinds of households. Over 378,000 lived in Orthodox homes (240,000 in Brooklyn, many in the distinct Ḥasidic garb). Over 220,000 lived in Russian-speaking households, about 94% of them in the five boroughs. In 1991, 13% of all Jewish adults said they had been born outside the United States. By 2002, this percentage had increased to 27%. Adults born in the former Soviet Union accounted for 43% of all foreign-born adults in 2002, compared with 26% in 1991.
The New York area, with 55,000 people, also had by far the largest number of survivors of the Holocaust in the United States, although it was aging significantly. Singles accounted for 35% of the Jewish households in Manhattan, which was home to one of the greatest concentrations of Jewish singles in the United States, 55,000, according to the 2002 survey. These singles participated in a broad range of social and cultural activities tied to a variety of Jewish institutions. Many singles successfully trolled popular Internet sites like JDate.com in an effort to meet their lifetime mates.
One of the most contentious and troublesome issues in Jewish life was intermarriage. In 2002, according to the survey, the New York rate, 22%, was approximately half the national average, probably because of the large Ḥasidic population, where arranged marriages were not uncommon, and the insular Russian groups, who often selected Russian-speaking mates. While still low by national standards, intermarriage rates in the eight-county area increased significantly (36% of marriages) in the 1998–2002 period.
Jewish children aged 6 to 17 had relatively high levels of Jewish education. About 45% were enrolled in a full-time Jewish day school. Only 13% had not received any formal Jewish education.
While there was substantial affluence within the community, there was also substantial poverty. As 17% of New York Jewish households reported an income of more than $150,000 a year, 31% said they had an annual income of less than $35,000. There were more poor Jews in New York than there were Jews in all but the largest Jewish communities in the United States. Poverty increased significantly in New York City after 1991 during a period when overall poverty rates in the city declined. From 1991 to 2002, the number of people estimated to be living in Jewish households under the poverty level in New York City rose from 167,500 to 226,000, an increase of 35%.
The poorest by far in the survey were in Russian-speaking households with seniors age 65 or older. Eighty-five percent of people who were both older and Russian-speaking reported significant poverty-level incomes, reflecting limited American work histories and therefore lack of qualification for traditional Social Security and private pensions. This group seemed to reflect the immigrant period of struggle and adjustment on the road to absorption in the American community.
Many people have defined New York by its ever-changing and ever-renewing neighborhoods, from the densely populated Lower East Side around the turn of the 20th century to the apartment-house-dominated Bronx and Queens at the middle and end of that century. Jewish New York in the 21st century was a continuation of that phenomenon, of living with like-minded and economically equal neighbors. About 84% of the Jews in the area lived in 26 specific areas. One out of four lived in five areas: Flatbush/Midwood/Kensington (107,800); Boro Park (82,600); the Upper East Side (73,300); the Upper West Side (71,800); and Central/Southeastern Westchester (64,300), a relatively easy commute to Manhattan.
In Brooklyn neighborhoods like Boro Park, Flatbush, Kings Bay/Madison and Coney Island/Brighton and in Nassau County's Five Towns, on the city's border, over 40% of the residents were Jewish. By contrast, areas like the Northeast Bronx, Western Suffolk, Southwestern Westchester, and Central Suffolk had Jewish populations of only 10%.
[Jacob B. Ukeles (2nd ed.)]
In the last quarter of the 20th century and into the 21st, Jews operated at the center of New York political life and power, partly because of numbers and
partly because of the high percentage of voter turnout, even in off-year elections. Following in the long tradition of activism and participation in democratic government, Jews took strong roles in city affairs, neighborhood disputes, and grass-roots activities. Political-minded individuals often sought change through the ballot box or by becoming candidates themselves. As of 2006, three of the previous five mayors (and none before them) were Jewish:
Abraham D. *Beame
, elected in 1973,
Edward I. *Koch
, who served three four-year terms, and
Michael R. *Bloomberg
, who won re-election in 2005 with a whopping 59% of the vote. The candidates had taken different roads to the top, reflecting the complexity, diversity, and realities of political life in the city. Beame came up through the ranks of the Brooklyn Democratic organization, using his skills as an accountant to eventually win election as city comptroller, guardian of the finances. He followed the flashy tenure of John Lindsay, who led the city into a financial crisis. Beame's financial skills were not deft enough to save the city from near ruin, but eventually the city emerged with the help of some key power brokers (who happened to be Jewish): Felix Rohatyn, a Wall Street figure, and Victor Gotbaum, a labor leader, who put together a plan to save the city with new bonds and commitments from the well-financed union-city pension funds. Koch became active in his local reform Democratic organization in Greenwich Village, fighting to maintain its special neighborhood characteristics. After defeating a longtime "boss" in his home district, Koch secured the nomination to represent the area in the House of Representatives. He won the seat and served until he gained the mayoralty nomination and then triumphed in the citywide election. Bloomberg, a Democrat who ran as a Republican, was given little chance in the heavily Democratic city. But the multibillionaire businessman spent lavishly and campaigned hard and defeated a little-known candidate. When he ran for re-election, the formerly shy Bloomberg, who was not known for his religious observance, had no hesitancy about reaching out to Jewish audiences, and he campaigned in the Catskills, a favorite summertime retreat for New York Jews. Privately, he was one of the most philanthropic individuals in the world. He contributed regularly to at least a dozen Jewish organizations or institutions, and he and his sister endowed a fund in their mother's name to send teenagers to a kosher camp that is part of Young Judaea, a Zionist youth movement. And just before the election, ultra-Orthodox leaders in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, held what was by far the largest rally of Bloomberg's campaign. With searchlights flashing across the sky and klezmer music blaring from loudspeakers hoisted on cranes, thousands of Ḥasidim cheered the mayor from rooftops and blocks upon blocks of bleachers. One barely mentioned controversy involved the city's Health Department drive, as a preventive measure, to ban an ancient form of ritual circumcision practiced by some Ḥasidic mohelim that had been linked to three cases of neonatal herpes in late 2004, one of them fatal. And as an indication of the sensitivity and power of the Jewish electorate, a candidate for a fringe party, Lenora Fulani, who had said that Jews "had to sell their souls to acquire Israel" and had to "function as mass murderers of people of color," was removed from a leadership position after her party concluded that her inflammatory comments about Jews were "outrageous and distasteful."
During that period, prominent Jewish officeholders showed their ambitions by making runs for nomination or election but fell short. They included Ruth Messinger, then borough president of Manhattan and later president of the American Jewish World Service; Harrison J. (Jay) Goldin, the city's comptroller during the Beame years and president of the American Jewish Congress' Metropolitan Region; Albert Blumenthal, who was majority leader of the New York State Assembly; Richard Ravitch, former head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority who also served as head of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Charter Revision Commission; Ronald Lauder, the cosmetics heir and former head of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and former Ambassador to Austria, and Representative Anthony D. Weiner, a former congressional aide to Charles *Schumer, later U.S. Senator Schumer.
It was not unusual in New York City to see politicians strolling the streets or ambling in the parks, chatting with constituents. Although their surnames easily identified them as Jews, they did not campaign or serve as Jewish office holders, particularly in a vast, multicultural environment. One regular was Henry J. Stern, who served as Parks Commissioner for more than a dozen years under six mayors. Another popular political figure, Robert Morgenthau, son of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Treasury secretary,
, Jr., won election as Manhattan district attorney in 1974 and kept getting elected, even at the age of 86, serving more than 32 years, a record. From his safe Lower East Side district, Sheldon Silver, Orthodox and observant, exercised considerable power in Albany for many years as a leader of the state assembly, a position he attained through seniority and political dexterity. In Congress, no one fought harder for equal rights for women than Bella S. Abzug, who represented a Manhattan district in Congress. Abzug, who was active in several feminist groups, including NOW, pressed for an Equal Rights Amendment, but the measure failed to gain approval in enough state legislatures to be adopted.
A number of Jews tried to use their political and financial base in New York City as a springboard for national or statewide office. These included three attorney generals:
, a popular Republican who campaigned as Looie, and two Democrats,
; and the comptrollers Alan Hevesi and Arthur Levitt, Sr., who served for six terms until 1979 and whose son, Arthur Levitt, Jr. was chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. During the last quarter of the 20th century, all the governors of New York were gentiles. By the second half of the 20th century, realizing that they had to appeal to a broad and more sophisticated electorate, Jewish candidates were barely mentioning their religious affiliation.
One crowning achievement, the appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsberg of New York to the United States Supreme Court in 1993, pointed to the importance of both Jews and women in politics.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, no citywide candidate could be elected without Jewish votes and no statewide candidate could ignore the sizable downstate Jewish vote in the city, on Long Island and in Westchester. Either because of firmly held opinions or because of political considerations, non-Jewish candidates for citywide and statewide office often took strong pro-Israel stances. Famously, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani turned down a donation for the victims of 9/11 from a Saudi Prince who had tied the 9/11 attacks to U.S. policy in favor of Israel. Senator Alfonse D'Amato, who served 18 years in the Senate, was an ardent champion of Israel. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was beloved in the Jewish community because of his support for Israel during his tenure as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In 1975, when the U.N. passed a resolution declaring "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination," basically an endorsement of antisemitism, Moynihan said: "This is a lie." And when Idi Amin, the tyrant who ruled Uganda, went before the world body and demanded the "extinction of Israel as a state," Moynihan called him a "racist murderer." Moynihan, who had never visited the Middle East, took his political direction from the State Department, he said, but on Zionism, Jewish history, antisemitism, and related topics, he relied on the advice of Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, and by that time a neoconservative, as was Moynihan. The senator was also a vigorous supporter of the rights of Soviet Jewry. Moynihan spoke out publicly and worked tirelessly with Jewish groups to get the Soviet Union to relax its grip on the dissidents and other Jews who sought to leave the Communist state. More recently, Hillary Clinton, who while First Lady committed the faux pas of embracing Suha Arafat, the wife of Yasser Arafat, became one of the most avid supporters of Israel in the U.S. Senate.
New York was the most important source of political fund-raising in the United States. Four of the top five zip codes in the nation for contributions were in Manhattan. The top zip code, 10021, on the Upper East Side, where many wealthy Jews resided, generated the most money for the 2000 presidential campaigns of both George W. Bush and Al Gore.
No event touched the soul of New York more than the attacks on the World Trade Center towers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. There were Jewish victims among the almost 3,000 dead, of course, but they had not been singled out as Jews. Indeed, the diversity of the victims was one of the hallmarks of the event, a tragedy that cut across all ethnic and religious lines, but the Moslem extremists who perpetrated the attack had identified Jews with New York City and with American capitalism. One rumor in the Moslem world that circulated shortly after the attacks was that Jews working in the World Trade Center had received phone calls from Israel warning them not to go to work on Sept. 11. The rumor was patently false.
A few years later, after the dust had settled, literally and figuratively, Larry Silverstein, the owner of the property, sought to rebuild after receiving insurance payments for both buildings. He enlisted the architect Daniel Liebeskind to design new towers and a memorial to the victims, but the project became bogged down in disputes among the city, state, families of the victims, commercial interests and others. Liebeskind's design was eventually abandoned and the timetable for construction was delayed.
[Neil Goldstein (2nd ed.)]
As the city emerged from its financial nightmare of the early 1970s ("Ford to City: Drop Dead," was the headline in The Daily News when its plea for aid was turned down by the White House) and became reenergized, it became clear that the economy and the engines that ran it were ready to reassert New York's primary position in the world of finance. On Wall Street, in banking, in fashion and merchandising, in department stores and in diamonds, among other areas, many Jewish New Yorkers were in the front ranks of movers and shakers. The old German-Jewish families that had established beachheads even before the wave of immigrants arrived toward the end of the 19th century, the Schiffs, Warburgs, Lehmans, Morgenthaus, Oppenheims, and Guggenheims, to name a few, remained in the top tier at the giant financial brokerages like Kuhn Loeb, Goldman Sachs, Lazard Frères, and their successors. But the firms were so large that by the 21st century management was in the hands of a multitude of partners and officers, many of whom were Jewish and many of whom were not. Some individuals earned reputations on Wall Street, like Abby Joseph Cohen, a lead financial analyst for Merrill, Lynch, and Felix Rohatyn, who headed Lazard Frères, with time out for service as Ambassador to France, and Saul Steinberg, who rode a tiger to great wealth and renown in the insurance industry, only to suffer a letdown. Henry Kravis and Peter Kalikow won fame in a series of leveraged buyouts and Gerald Levin wound up as chief executive of the merged Time Warner AOL empire. Carl Icahn earned his stripes as a feared corporate raider and Ivan Boesky won riches and then shame dealing in junk bonds and other enterprises. Peter Cohen headed American Express for a time. The Greenberg clan, father Maurice and two sons, were powers in the insurance business, heading major companies until a scandal in 2005. Mortimer Zuckerman, who made a fortune in real estate in Boston and New York, bought and was publisher of The Daily News, once the newspaper with the largest daily circulation in the United States. Robert E. Rubin, who was born in New York, rose from the risk arbitrage department at Goldman Sachs to become its vice chairman and co-chief operating officer until he was plucked by President Clinton to serve in his administration. Rubin became the 70th United States Secretary of the Treasury, spanning both Clinton terms. And with New York as his base, George Soros, an immigrant from Hungary, formed private hedge funds and became the wealthiest man in the world – until he decided to
start giving away much of his fortune to charitable endeavors. In the same vein, Michael Bloomberg started on Wall Street and established a financial information service that became a "must have" for financial institutions large and small. Bloomberg, removing himself from his far-flung business empire, which included computerized data and radio and television stations stressing financial news, twice won election as Mayor of New York. In banking, Sanford G. Weill rose to become chairman of Citigroup, one of the largest institutions in the United States, encompassing banking, credit cards, mortgages, home equity loans, the brokerage Smith Barney and other consumer financial services. In the unpublicized and lightly regulated field of money management, investors like Michael Steinhardt accumulated fortunes. Steinhardt used some of the funds to become the driving force behind Birthright Israel, a project aimed at strengthening the connection between young Jews and Israel.
Estee Lauder, who was born in Queens, transformed beauty into big business. In the 21st century, her company controlled 45% of the cosmetics market in U.S. department stores. Its products were sold in 118 countries. Even after 40 years in business, she attended the launch of every new cosmetics counter or shop. Her sons Ronald and Leonard were important figures in New York business, culture and philanthropy. Well-known names in the fashion industry like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Isaac Mizrachi, Liz Claiborne, and Marc Jacobs found exposure in the great department and clothing stores of New York, like Jewish-founded Barney's (once a store for hard-to-fit youth but later a fashion emporium), Bloomingdale's, B. Altman, Gimbel's, Saks, and Macy's. But in the face of competition and changing tastes, the family-started stores found it difficult to continue. Some closed and some were bought out. One venture, Alexander's, the best-known clothing store in the Bronx, was owned by the Farkas family. When it expanded to Manhattan and opened a vast store near Bloomingdale's, Alexander's failed, and the family eventually closed its stores. The tale of Stern's, once a magnet for class-conscious German immigrants early in the century, later a destination for the aspiring middle class after World War II, provided a case in point. Four sons of an impoverished German Jewish immigrant founded Stern's in 1867. Buoyed by their initial success, the Stern brothers led a retail migration to Ladies' Mile in 1878 with the opening of a seven-story building on 23d Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It was the largest department store in New York until 1910. In 1913 the store moved to 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue and catered to show business people because of its proximity to Broadway. The store stocked other merchandise in an attempt to feed the aspirations of less wealthy shoppers. It thrived in this middle-market niche for decades but in 1951 Stern's was bought by Allied Stores and a new era began. In the competitive postwar retail landscape, Stern's began marketing itself to the masses. But ultimately, Stern's lost out to big box stores and to the fact that, during the 1980s, customers of all incomes became bargain hunters. Stern's is now gone. And Bloomingdale's and Macy's became part of Federated Department Stores. Another family-owned concern rose up out of Brooklyn to succeed, on a smaller scale, on Long Island, in Manhattan, and in suburban New Jersey and Westchester. In the Brownsville-East New York section of Brooklyn in the 1920s, under an elevated subway line, Max and Clara Fortunoff sold dishes, linens, and other dry goods at low prices. As they watched the neighborhood decline in the late 1960s, the Fortunoff offspring sensed that their customers were moving to Long Island, so Fortunoff branched out to Long Island with housewares, furniture, luggage, and luxury goods like fine china and jewelry. In Manhattan, Fortunoff opened a jewelry store on Fifth Avenue.
Throughout this period, and stretching back to before World War II, 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues flourished as the diamond capital of the United States. It was a tightly-knit industry and was controlled by Jews, just as it had been for centuries, from the mines in South Africa to the skilled cutting and polishing craftsmen in Antwerp and other world capitals. As in the diamond exchange in Tel Aviv, deals on 47th Street were consummated by handshake and Yiddish confirmations. Trust ruled the transactions. Dozens of sales people, many in Ḥasidic garb, dominated the streets, which had the highest concentration of police protection in the city to thwart temptation. Secrecy and discretion were unspoken bywords, and in the 21st century the diamond district remained almost totally in Jewish hands.
The real-estate business in the city was a dynastic enterprise, the great fortunes being passed down from one generation to another, and Jewish families were front-and-center in acquiring land, building homes and commercial structures, and running vast enterprises. The practice bore little relationship to the modern world of the corporation. While the elders and parents of a generation made deals and brokered arrangements, their children went to school and summer camp with one another, cementing relationships for the future. The families, Rose, Tishman, Rudin, Milstein, Tish, LeFrak, to cite a few, occupied the top tiers of the business. These oligarchies were only a few generations old, tracing their roots and business involvement to the immigrant arrivals and pushcarts that flooded New York in the previous century. Some concentrated in Manhattan, shrewdly accumulating property slowly and rarely selling. Others tried to be prudent, rarely taking risks. Others built massively in the outer boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens, where lower prices prevailed. In addition to shaping the landscape of New York City, the families were the backbone of philanthropy. Not only did they give extensively to Jewish charities, but they were identified with hospitals and educational institutions. And many found the time to serve in high positions in government and civic life. Lewis Rudin, for example, was the founder of a group called the Association for a Better New York, which promoted the city's reputation and performed good works. Seymour Milstein and his brothers, on the other
hand, used their fortune to buy other companies, and at one time owned United Brands, the Starett Housing Corporation, and Emigrant Savings Bank. Although they gave their word to city officials that they would protect the famed gilded clock and Palm Court lounge of the Biltmore Hotel, they demolished both in 1981. The family, once extraordinarily close, later split, and filed so many suits against one another that they almost destroyed themselves. When Seymour Milstein died in 2001, his nephew issued a statement that read in its entirety: "We will always cherish the happy times we shared and our many years together."
If the real estate interests were bound by common interests, so were the social strivers who sought the best living arrangements. While the state banned discrimination in the sale and rental of housing, Jews in New York sometimes experienced more subtle stumbling blocks. Many of the grand old buildings lining Central Park West and Fifth and Park Avenues in Manhattan were cooperatives, and prospective tenants had to be screened and approved by the respective boards before being allowed to make their purchase. A number of high-profile, wealthy Jews, like Barbra Streisand, the singer; Mike Wallace, the television reporter; Ron Perelman, the financier; and Steve Wynn, the casino entrepreneur, were rejected, usually without reason. The co-ops functioned as private clubs and could determine if the applicant possessed the "right" connections or ethnicity or earned their living in an "approved" manner. Sometimes Jews were admitted one week and not the next, after some quota was reached. Whereas religion was once a key unspoken factor, by the early years of the 21st century rejection on economic grounds was much more common as old prejudices lost much of their sting.
Following the success of Stephen Birmingham's Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York, published in 1967, Irving Howe weighed in with World of Our Fathers in 1973. Historically, the exhaustively researched tale of Jewish immigrant life on the Lower East Side provided a cultural anthropology spanning the Old Country to the settlement houses and synagogues, the matchmakers, dance halls, and the culture of Yiddish, from poets, novelists, and intellectuals to theatrical figures and popular entertainers. Although he was a scholar and an intellectual, Howe in World of Our Fathers taught a new generation about the notion of egalitarian socialism and how it emerged from the struggle for social justice, according to Morris Dickstein, writing two decades after the publication of the surprise best-seller. The book, written with the assistance of Kenneth Libo, made its way into virtually every Jewish home, and its readers, many of them second-generation Jews who had moved to the suburbs, were able to reconnect to a world of struggle and idealism.
Although Bernard Malamud, who died in 1986, set many of his stories in New York, sometimes a geographical New York, sometimes a metaphysical one, and used Jewish characters extensively, he was not considered a "Jewish" writer, but rather an American writer. To the writer and critic Jonathan Rosen, Malamud's city was a place of surprises, of trials, and of ultimate meaning. In his best fiction, New York haunted his imagination, and his prose told the story of struggling tailors, shoemakers, matchmakers, light-bulb peddlers, and immigrants. His work, critics said, showed a regard for tradition and the plight of ordinary men, and was imbued with the theme of moral wisdom gained through suffering. His death was followed five years later by that of Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1978. Singer wrote largely in Yiddish, although he had lived in New York since before World War II. His 1970 novel, Enemies: A Love Story, set in 1949 in New York, dealt with survivors of the Holocaust who felt guilty about having survived. It became a successful film in 1989.
The immigrant experience provided the background for E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, first as a novel in 1975 and then as a musical on Broadway in 1998. Doctorow, a New Yorker, had earlier won acclaim for The Book of Daniel, a fictionalized story of the executed atomic spies, the Rosenbergs, in 1971.
On the stage, through the end of the 20th century, Arthur Miller continued to churn out drama, although none achieved the commercial or critical success of his earlier works, which included All My Sons and After the Fall, a fictionalized version of his life with Marilyn Monroe, who converted to Judaism for their marriage.
The Broadway stage proved the perfect vehicle for Wendy Wasserstein (d. 2006), a Brooklyn-born playwright of wry, smart, and often highly comical plays. In 1989 she won both the Tony and Pulitzer Prizes for her play The Heidi Chronicles, and explored topics ranging from feminism to family to pop culture in such works as The Sisters Rosensweig, Isn't It Romantic and An American Daughter. Like Miller, who often mixed his art and politics, Tony Kushner, who was born in New York and educated there, made a splash with Angelsin America, a two-play exploration of the state of the nation in terms of sexual, racial, religious, political, and social issues that confronted the nation during the Ronald Reagan years as the AIDS epidemic spread. Angels is really two full-length plays. Part I: Millenium Approaches, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1993. Part II: Perestroika, won the Tony award. Four characters represented Jews, Christians and agnostics; homosexuals and heterosexuals; blacks and whites; and men and women caregivers and patients – an American mix. The prolific Kushner's masterpiece was directed for television in 2004 by Mike Nichols, proving its durability, and won numerous awards. AIDS, the great affliction of the 1980s in New York, found its chief stage and real-life opponent in Larry Kramer, a dramatist, author and gay rights activist. Beginning in 1981, Kramer published a series of articles on the growing AIDS epidemic, urging immediate government and private action. He was a founder of Gay Men's Health Crisis, a New York-based advocacy group, which remains the world's largest provider of services to gay men with AIDS. In 1987, increasingly discontented with the response to AIDS by both the U.S. government and the gay male community, Kramer founded the AIDS advocacy
and protest organization, ACT-UP, which engaged in civil disobedience. His 1985 play about the early years of AIDS, The Normal Heart, was one of the most important cultural responses in the 1980s to the devastation of AIDS. It had more than 600 productions all over the world.
By contrast, Mel Brooks, the comedian and comedy writer, adapted his 1968 movie, The Producers, into a Broadway musical, with Thomas Meehan. The outrageous work was the smash hit of the 2000-2001 season, winning 12 Tony Awards, the most for one show. Brooks wrote the satiric – and some said offensive – Springtime for Hitler, a number that carried the story line, about a down and out producer who raises money for the world's worst show, a musical based on the life of Hitler. The humor took political incorrectness to a new level, which Brooks defended by saying that he had "to bring Hitler down with ridicule. It's been one of my life-long jobs – to make the world laugh at Adolf Hitler."
On television, one of the most popular programs of the 1990s was Seinfeld, a comedy about "nothing." Set in New York, the program had four main characters: Jerry Seinfeld, a comedian; George Costanza, played by
and based on the life of the show's co-creator, Larry David; Elaine Benes, played by
; and the lovable but loopy Kramer, portrayed by Michael Richards, based on a real New Yorker named Kramer. Many scenes were shot in a reproduction of a Manhattan diner and explored familiar problems among singles in the city.
In 2004 the Jewish Museum celebrated its 100th birthday, having achieved the status of one of the city's major art museums. The museum began as a repository of Jewish culture but became a significant force in the art world, unafraid to mount exhibitions with provocative themes that challenged and sometimes angered visitors. Before World War II, it bought important Judaica and became an important home to objects from a lost civilization. It expanded in 1983, adding exhibition space and a kosher café. Membership reached 11,250 and visitors reached more than 200,000 a year by around 2005. The museum was not the only repository of Jewish heritage. In 2003 a Center for Jewish History opened in four buildings in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The center's members include: the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, the Leo Baeck Institute, the Yeshiva University Museum, and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. At the end of the 20th century, the Museum of Jewish Heritage opened at the foot of Manhattan as a living memorial to the Holocaust. The museum honored those who died by celebrating their lives. Its core exhibition of photographs, personal objects, and original films illustrated the story of Jewish heritage in the 20th century.
Perhaps the best-known cultural center in New York was the 92nd Street Y, a multifaceted institution and cultural center founded in 1874 by German-Jewish professionals. It grew from an organization guided by Jewish principles but serving people of all races and faiths. In 2006, it was serving over 300,000 people annually in 200 programs a day. Its programming encompassed Jewish education and culture, concerts featuring classical, jazz, and popular music, humanities classes, dance performances, film screenings, a nursery school, etc.
The most densely populated major city in North America, New York became known as "the melting pot" because of its hordes of immigrants from diverse places in Europe. But that sobriquet took on new meaning in the 1960s and later in a changing city as advocates for civil rights stepped up pressure for equal treatment in schools, housing, and employment. In 1984, the Rev. Jesse Jackson became the second black American to mount a nationwide campaign for President of the United States, running as a Democrat. A major controversy erupted early in the campaigns when Jackson, speaking to reporters, referred to Jews as "hymies" and to New York City as "Hymietown." Later he made a perfunctory apology. While Jews, themselves victims of discrimination, had lived side-by-side with blacks for decades, and had been prominent in leadership and financial support for civil rights causes, they, and the city, were living in a new time. Crime was high on the list of concerns in the late 1960s and 1970s, drugs appeared to be easy to come by and many whites and blacks were eyeing each other warily. In 1991, in what came to be an iconic moment in the relationship between Jews and blacks in the city, a car in the motorcade of the Lubavitch grand rabbi, Menachem M. Schneerson, swerved onto a sidewalk, killing a 7-year-old black boy, Gavin Cato. The accident, combined with simmering tensions between Orthodox Jews and black residents, created a cauldron of ethnic suspicions. Three hours later, a group of black youths, incited by cries of "go get a Jew," attacked Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian Lubavitch student, apparently in retaliation. Four days of rioting and violence engulfed Crown Heights, headquarters of the Lubavitch, and a prosecutor called the crimes "emblematic of the worst kind of violence and religious hatred this city has every seen." Fueling the violence was a deep-rooted belief among many blacks in Crown Heights that Jews received preferential treatment, not only from the police but also in city services. (In fact, studies after the disturbances showed that black organizations in Crown Heights received more city and state money than many Ḥasidic organizations.) Before his death, Rosenbaum identified Lemrick Nelson Jr., then 16, as his assailant. A bloody knife was found in Nelson's possession, and Nelson confessed the murder to the police. But a jury of six blacks, four Hispanics and two whites acquitted him. A day later, the jury members joined Nelson and his lawyer in a New York restaurant to celebrate the verdict. In a second trial, in 2003, Nelson was found guilty of violating Rosenbaum's civil rights, but the jury found that he had not directly caused Rosenbaum's death. The hate-crime killing seemed to have symbolized much of what had gone wrong in the special relationship between blacks and Jews in the city and was tirelessly debated on the streets, in the media, and in the courts. It took years for the case to be settled, and passions aroused by the incident were slow to cool. For David N. Dinkins, the city's first black mayor, Crown
Heights became a crushing political weight, and he was defeated when he sought re-election. Because the case took so many years in the courts, many youths in Crown Heights interviewed in the early years of the 21st century were barely aware of the circumstances of the deaths.
While relations between blacks and Jews were sometimes fragile in New York, Jews in the early 21st century were thrust into the debate over events in Israel, particularly on college campuses, as professors and students took a hostile approach to developments in the Middle East. On the campuses of Columbia University and Barnard, for instance, pro-Israel students said they had been intimidated by professors of Middle Eastern studies both in and out of the classroom. Symbolically, the incident pointed to a mood on American campuses skeptical of Israeli activities and sympathetic to Palestinian complaints, views originally espoused and pursued by the New Left of the 1960s and 1990s.
As the largest avenue of philanthropy in New York and North America, UJA-Federation consistently ranked in the top tier of The Chronicle of Philanthropy's listing of U.S. charities that raised the most in donations from individuals, foundations, and corporations. The only institutions that raised more funds made national appeals (American Red Cross) or used funds primarily for endowment and plant rather than programs (universities, hospitals, and museums), making UJA-Federation of New York the largest broadly-based local philanthropy in the United States. In 2005, its campaign year closed at a record-breaking $231,347,113, including $140 million from its annual campaign, $71.9 million in planned giving and endowments, and $15.9 million raised through capital gifts and special initiatives. An additional $3.3 million was contributed to an emergency relief fund. The total combined budget of UJA-Federation's local network of agencies exceeded $1 billion.
In 1973, at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, community leaders combined the Federation campaign with a special United Jewish Appeal Drive called the Israel Emergency Fund. After raising a record $100 million, the UJA-Federation Joint Campaign was created in July 1974 and Israel became the primary Jewish concern of the bulk of New York Jews. To meet both local and overseas needs, the joint effort raised an average of $100 million annually, reaching $110 million by 1983.
In 1999, UJA-Federation of New York became the first federation in the country to see the division of "domestic" and "overseas" as anachronistic and to instead organize its planning and allocations around types of services like health and human services, Jewish education and identity building, and Jewish peoplehood (rescue, resettlement, and fostering connections between Jewish communities in New York, Israel, and around the world).
As political, social, and technological changes fostered this increasingly global focus, other economic, social, and tax law changes forced changes in how the federation raised its funds. The primary vehicle for fundraising remained the Annual Campaign. At the time, 80 to 90 percent of the funds came from just 10 to 20 percent of the donors. While efforts continued to be made to broaden the base, through direct marketing (mail and phone) and the Internet, the majority of the organization's fundraising efforts were targeted at higher-end donors through one-on-one relationships and to mid-level donors at more than 700 fundraising events each year targeting specific trades and professions, synagogues, communities, women, and families. UJA-Federation also opened full-service offices in Westchester (1988) and Long Island (1989), where affluent Jewish populations resided. The Annual Campaign reached over $120 million per year from over 75,000 donors in the first years of the 21st century. At the same time, the donor base was shrinking (as recently as 1996, there had been over 91,000 donors), cuts in government spending for social services placed significant pressure on the agencies, and the modest increases in the campaign were counterbalanced by the effects of inflation.
By the end of the 20th century, needs had further shifted. The majority of Jews in New York were now long-time Americans who no longer needed help with the most basic needs and with integration into American society. The enormous wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union slowed down by the mid-1990s, and immigration was not anticipated ever to reach such heights again. In the 21st century, UJA-Federation's mission was revised to place equal emphasis on caring for those in need, rescuing those in harm's way, and renewing and strengthening the Jewish people in New York, Israel, and around the world. The share of local unrestricted grants for community centers, human-service agencies, and Jewish education increased by 11 percent between 1995 and 2003, while the share of grants to hospitals and geriatric centers decreased by 98 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
For the human-service agenda, the need to provide services to the most vulnerable continued. Despite the upward mobility of much of the community, significant pockets of poverty existed, particularly in Brooklyn and Queens. Publication in 1971 of "The Invisible Jewish Poor," by Anne Wolfe, revealed widespread poverty among Jews, with particular emphasis on senior citizens. The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty was created in 1972 to provide clothing, food, housing, and job-placement services to Jewish New Yorkers in poverty. As poverty continued and some populations experienced difficulty accessing public services, the New York Legal Assistance Group was organized in 1990 to provide free legal help to at-risk and low-income individuals. In 2005, UJA-Federation developed a comprehensive system for individuals and families coping with terminal illness, helping them access medical, social, psychological, and spiritual care through three regional care centers, and opened the first and only state-certified residential hospice under Jewish auspices in New York State.
[Jennifer Rosenberg (2nd ed.)]
Mention "Russian Jews in New York" and what immediately comes to mind for most New Yorkers is
Brighton Beach – a garish, boisterous strip of Russian restaurants, nightclubs, and specialty food stores hunkered under the rumbling elevated subway line. A block or two away is the nearby boardwalk, one of New York's great people-watching locations in the summer, where svelte "New Russians" enjoy caviar and blini at a string of outdoor cafes, while babushkas with golden teeth sit on nearby benches watching their grandchildren play, and knots of men sit at tables playing chess and backgammon.
Yet Brighton is only the tip of the iceberg of Russian-speaking New York – a sprawling human archipelago of 350,000 people, 70 to 80% of whom are Jewish. According to a 2003 population survey conducted by UJA-Federation, 19% of the Jews in the five boroughs of New York were Russian-speakers. The survey found that 62% lived in Brooklyn (124,000), 19% in Queens (39,000); 5% in Staten Island (11,000), 5% in Nassau County (10,000), and 4% in Manhattan (9,000). Russians made up 27% of Brooklyn's Jewish community, 21% of Queens Jewry, and 26% of Staten Island's. It was believed that there were as many as 50,000 Russian-speaking Jews in the suburbs of northern New Jersey.
The Russian-speaking community got its start in southern Brooklyn during the mid-1970s but spread far beyond that neighborhood east to the more upscale marine communities of Manhattan Beach and Sheepshead Bay, and west to scruffy Coney Island, where it abutted African-American and Hispanic communities. The Russians then spread north to Bensonhurst, which they shared with Italian-Americans, Ocean Parkway, which had a large Syrian Jewish population, and Midwood, where they intersected with Pakistanis and Arab-Americans.
Away from Brighton Beach and Brooklyn, a second huge enclave of Russian speakers, the exotic Bukharan Jewish community of Persian-speaking Jews from
, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, all part of the former Soviet Union, set up home and culture in the Central Queens communities of Rego Park, Forest Hills, and Kew Gardens. There, 50,000 Bukharan Jews lived in streets filled with Bukharan yeshivot, synagogues, and restaurants/nightclubs, from which the sound of sinuous but exuberant Bukharan music exploded into the night. Although Bukhara is a city in Uzbekistan, the term Bukharan refers to all Central Asian Jews who speak Bukhari, a Jewish dialect of Persian. Bukharans celebrate and commemorate in big ways. Nightly, the community turned out for events: weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, cultural presentations or memorials. Whereas most of their homes in Europe faced inner courtyards, in Queens they lived in cramped apartments, so restaurants became their courtyards. The neighborhood, along Queens Boulevard, from Rego Park to Forest Hills to Kew Gardens to Briarwood, featured small businesses runs by Bukharans and ethnic specialties like fried fish, dried fruits, and Samarkand raisins. Kosher bakeries with tandor ovens dispensed crusty round breads called non, topped with black sesame seeds, baked on the clay walls. Noni toki, a domed matzolike bread, was also a favorite, as were samosi, a pastry filled with a nut mixture, and lavz, a mixture of nuts and spices compressed into a flat bar. Most community events involved live music, whether the classical tradition of the shash maqam, a repertory of vocal and instrumental sounds, folk songs, or Russian pop. The Bukharan Jewish National Theater performed regularly, sometimes using its other name, Vozrozhdenie (Russian for renaissance). Twenty synagogues served the community; their prayer books featured Hebrew on one side and a Russian transliteration on the other.
In that area, too, were the smaller but still substantial Oriental communities of Georgian and Mountain Jews, who hailed from
and the northern
. Some lived in Washington Heights at the uppermost tip of Manhattan, an area that attracted a community of so-called Russian intelligentsia – artists, writers, and bohemians. Over the years, many Russian families moving into the middle class left the gritty streets of Brooklyn for semi-suburban Staten Island, while others moved on to the commuter towns of northern and central New Jersey, as well as communities in Long Island, Westchester and southern Connecticut.
The origin of the emigration goes back to the period directly after the Six-Day War of 1967, when Soviet Jews giddy with the smashing military victory of the Israel Defense Forces against the armed forces of Egypt and Syria, armed to the hilt by the Soviet government, began to shake off their fear of the Soviet regime and demanded to be allowed to repatriate to Israel.
By the early 1970s, the Soviet government, seeking détente with the West, began to allow some Soviet Jews to leave for Israel on humanitarian grounds, for family reunification. It was during this period that many Soviet Jews who received invitations ("vysov") from real or supposed relatives in Israel managed to get out of the Soviet Union, "dropped out" along the way to Israel in Vienna, and instead applied to emigrate to the United States as political refugees. Though the Israeli government objected strongly to the dropout phenomenon and chastised those who decided to go West, the U.S. Jewish community leadership upheld the principle of freedom of choice and by the late 1970s as many or more Soviet Jews were coming to the U.S. as to Israel. Soviet Jewish immigration to the U.S. started en masse.
Close to half of all Soviet Jews headed for New York City and a significant number of families and individuals who were brought to smaller communities across the U.S. under the auspices of local Jewish communities also eventually headed for New York, the only city where it soon became possible to lose oneself in a largely Russian environment.
About a third of the Russian-speaking Jewish population in New York at the beginning of the 21st century arrived during the 1970s. The New York Association of New Americans (NYANA) provided them with housing, language training, and help in finding jobs, began routing many Russian families to southern Brooklyn, a strongly Jewish area with excellent lowrent housing stock that had become increasingly down at the
heels as American-born Jewish families left. The rollicking environment of crass mercantilism and joie de vivre for which Brighton Beach became known had much in common with the spirit of Odessa on the Black Sea, but even many Jews from very different environments like Moscow and Leningrad initially moved to Brighton so they could live in a Russian linguistic and cultural environment.
By the late 1970s, restaurants and businesses catering to the Russian community began to spring up, helping to bring renewed economic vigor and stabilizing real estate values.
As a result of 35 to 40 years of immigration, 700,000 Soviet-born Jews were living in the U.S., about half of them, or 350,000, chose New York and its vicinity as their permanent home. By any account, the number exceeded those of Russia and Ukraine combined, making New York the world's most populous Russian-Jewish city. The 1990s arrivals differed from their predecessors in many respects. The refugees of the 1970s tended to be ideologically deeply anti-Communist and anti-Soviet, ready to risk everything, including a term in prison, for a chance to get to the West. The refugees of the 1990s came at a time of virtually free emigration after Communism had collapsed, and were more inclined to be pursuers of a better life.
Since education was always a primary social value, Russian Jewish immigrants came with a high level of educational attainment. Their striving for education continued in America, where they made up the best-educated group in U.S. immigration history. Virtually all younger Russian Jews went to college, and New York city, state, and private colleges were full of the Russian-speakers. In 2005, two Russian-Jewish students, Lev Sviridov from the City College and Eugene Shenderov from Brooklyn College, won highly competitive and prestigious Rhodes scholarship for graduate education in Oxford.
[Sam Kliger and
Walter Ruby (2nd ed.)]
One of the defining characteristics of New York are the neighborhoods, especially for Jews, who tended to live among fellow religionists for a variety of reasons, including proximity to local synagogues, friends, and familiar foods. Indeed, the history of New York Jewry is intertwined with the history of the neighborhoods: some with accommodating welcome mats, some achieving smashing successes, some declining over the years, some being reborn.
Following are snapshots of four local areas that have a distinctive Jewish flavor and history:
With the largest ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclave in the world outside Jerusalem, Boro Park combined the atmosphere and strictures of a 19th-century European religious-based village with many of the trappings of a 21st-century American consumer-oriented society. As home to several Hasidic sects, including the Bobover, Belz, Satmar, Stolin Vizhnitz, Munkacz, Sprinka, Klausenberg, Gerer, and Pupa, Boro Park was a center of Jewish learning and devotion, with hundreds of synagogues and yeshivas, and a Yiddish-speaking community where the rich, poor, and working class could shop in high-priced and low-priced stores and buy kosher specialties from well-stocked supermarket shelves.
Boro Park, also spelled Borough Park, was a mainly rural part of south-central Brooklyn in the last years of the 19th century. One of the original settlers, Electus B. Litchfield, built a subdivision in 1887 and called it Blythebourne. In 1898 State Senator William H. Reynolds bought a tract of land abutting the east side of New Utrecht Avenue, extending from 43rd to 60th Streets. He called it Borough Park, and it eventually swallowed Blythebourne. All that remained of that name by the 21st century was Blythebourne Station, the local post office.
The first synagogue in the area was built in 1904 as Russian Jews, living in the teeming and overcrowded Lower East Side of Manhattan, trickled in to join Italian and Irish families in single-family attached houses. During the Brooklyn real-estate boom of the 1920s, the area thrived in a confluence of democratic trends.
After World War II, the Italian and Irish families began moving out, and Jews who practiced a modern Orthodox faith spread to neighboring Flatbush and Midwood. For the Jewish community, it was the heyday of assimilation, when most were intent upon being inconspicuous. The Ḥasidim, practicing an 18th century form of ecstatic Judaism rich with ceremony and prayer, were different. Wearing beards and side curls, black hats and 19th-century suits and speaking Yiddish, the men stood out. The conservatively garbed women, in wigs and often pushing baby carriages, kept to themselves and their tight-knit families and friends. Many mainstream Jews found Ḥasidim, at first a tiny minority in New York, self-righteous, almost embarrassing, unsettling reminders of what these secular co-religionists once were. Tentatively, the Ḥasidic survivors clustered anew around the few rabbis who had survived the war.
One of the first Ḥasidic groups to move to Boro Park were the Skverer, who trace their roots to Chernobyl, Ukraine. Like other Ḥasidim, who practice an ecstatic brand of Judaism, each sect centers on a charismatic spiritual leader, often called a tzaddik, or righteous one, and on an individual's direct relationship with God. In 1922 Rabbi David Twersky was born in Kishinev, Russia, in a long line of distinguished rabbis. When he was 2, the family moved to the Lower East Side, where his father, Yitzchok, established a synagogue. Yitzchok later moved the synagogue to Williamsburg in Brooklyn and finally to 47th Street in Boro Park. David was 19 when his father died, and he took over the Skverer's leadership. Rabbi Twersky, who raised his sons as though they were in an East Europeanshtetl, aided many victims of the Holocaust in their efforts to emigrate to the United States. He also established a network of yeshivas, separately serving boys, girls, and married men, planting the Old World in the New World of Boro Park.
Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, a Holocaust survivor, nurtured the postwar rebirth of the Bobover sect, a group based in southeastern Poland that was nearly exterminated by the Nazis. He arrived in New York in the late 1940s, with only his
oldest son. Much of his family had been killed. During this period, according to Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish studies and sociology at Queens College, the rabbi apparently had a crisis of faith, shaved his beard, and lost his desire to be a rabbi. But he soon recovered, and his change of heart proved inspirational to many Orthodox Jews coping with poverty and psychological distress in the wake of the war. His success in recruiting Jews in America to the Bobov sect was attributed to the fact that he was both nonconfrontational and charismatic. Under about 50 years of his conciliatory leadership, the Bobover became the leading Ḥasidic group in Boro Park, perhaps a third of all the Ḥasidim. The Bobovers tended to look to their grand rabbi more than most sects for advice on business, marriage, and family. Unlike the Satmars and Lubavitch, the Bobovers flourished with little public infighting. The main Bobov synagogue, on 48th Street between 15th and 16th Avenues, was known as Bobover Promenade. The Bobover, who like other Ḥasidism did not recognize the State of Israel, were conspicuously absent from Satmar-inspired anti-Israel rallies at the United Nations, and the Bobover developed good relations with the more ambiguously Zionistic Klausenbergers and Belzers. Those two groups accepted educational stipends from the Israeli government.
As Boro Park became more Ḥasidic, the community's boundaries were considered to be between 12th and 18th Avenues and between 40th and 60th Streets. Its commercial center was 13th Avenue, with its aromatic bakeries, kosher pizzerias, and Judaica shops. But there were no video stores or national retail or food chains on the main shopping streets. The community flourished with the growth of Ḥasidism worldwide. Families grew, not only to follow the Biblical commandment to be fruitful and multiply but to replenish the post-Holocaust Jewish population. The fertility rate in Boro Park was double that of the city as a whole. Families with many children were common, and some had as many as 18 or 19. To accommodate the burgeoning population, homes expanded forward, backward, upward and even downward. In 1992 the city created a special zoning district in Boro Park so homeowners could legally build on 65% of their lot, and the footage for setbacks and rear yards was halved. From 1990 to 1998, the city's Building Department issued more permits, 822, for private construction projects of new homes and additions than in any other residential neighborhood of Brooklyn. Every other family was adding wings or floors just to keep pace with its growing brood. Sometimes wealthy families bought adjacent lots, razed row houses and built imposing single-family edifices from scratch. Others lived in a near-chronic state of renovation.
About 80% of the roughly 100,000 people were Jewish, according to estimates by Community Board 12 and local residents, early in the 21st century. Pockets of Moslems, Italian, and Irish as well as Mexicans, Chinese, Pakistanis, Russians, and Poles also lived in Boro Park, which in the early years of the 21st century also encompassed parts of Bensonhurst, Kensington and Flatbush. The boundaries were determined to be 8th Avenue to 20th Avenue, and 37th to 62d Streets and Dahill Road.
Life in Boro Park was decidedly different from other parts of New York. At 8 A.M. every morning, an armada of yellow buses lined up to transport girls in long skirts and boys in curly earlocks to the 65 religious schools in the neighborhood. Many blocks had several synagogues, from hole-in-the-wall shtiebels to vast tiered synagogues, with a ceiling that reached three stories above long wood tables where clusters of boys and men pored over Hebrew texts late into the night. One synagogue, Shomre Shabos, was called the local minyan factory. From dawn until 1:30 A.M., quorums of 10 men shuffled in and about, arranging themselves in parallel lines, swaying back and forth in prayer.
Rich, poor, and working class lived side by side, praying together and sending their children to the same schools. The wealthy paid tuitions that supported the neighborhood's many religious schools and cobbled together a kind of private social service system, complete with group homes and a volunteer ambulance corps. There were perhaps 150 interest-free loan associations to help the needy. Every night, young men in worn black coats and hats knocked on the back doors of the larger homes seeking charity. Every Thursday afternoon, in a converted transit way station, dozens of students and volunteers packed hundreds of Sabbath charity boxes with eggs, milk, noodles, chickens, and kosher wine. By evening, 65 young men packed the boxes into cars and vans to drop on the doorsteps of the poor families.
From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, all the shops – perhaps 400 – were closed (while the synagogues were full). A car that traversed the neighborhood on the Sabbath was looked on unkindly, and occasionally was stoned. After Shabbat and on Sunday, most residents shopped, strolled, and frequented kosher food shops like Mendel's 18th Avenue Pizza near 50th Street, where falafel, pirogies, or blintzes could be munched, Amnon's Kosher Pizza on 13th Avenue, the Donut Shop on 13th Avenue and 47th Street, where omelets and pancakes were also on the menu, and China Glatt, on 13th Avenue at 45th Street, one of the few nondairy restaurants. There were no bars on 13th Avenue and there were no parks in Boro Park.
[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]
Running diagonally across Manhattan, from the lower tip of Manhattan to the island's upper reaches, Broadway on the Upper West Side serves as the areas backbone and heart. Originally a Native American trail and built as Bloomingdale Road in 1703, Broadway, the widest street in the neighborhood, is a well-worn pathway to synagogues, famous food stores, Jewish cultural sites, and schools. With its parklike island, Broadway is also the communal front stoop, the place of serious and friendly networking, or schmoozing, among friends, neighbors, local politicians, and community leaders. The Upper West Side stretches from 59th to 110th Street, from Central Park West to Riverside Drive, and is sandwiched between two large city parks, Central Park and Riverside Park.
According to the Jewish Community Study of 2002, the Jewish population of the Upper West Side is 59,400 (the number of Jewish households is 37,100, with 71,800 people living in those households). Thirty percent of the households belong to a synagogue, with 14% affiliating with Orthodox, 25% with Conservative, and 28% with Reform; 16% identify as non-denominational and 13% as secular. One segment of the community is heavily committed to Jewish life, with 47% of neighborhood children having some day school education, and 64% having visited Israel. On the other hand, the intermarriage rate of 35% is slightly higher than the overall rate for Manhattan.
Although the Upper West Side does not have the largest Jewish population in Manhattan – there are more Jews living on the Upper East Side – the Upper West Side has much more of the distinctive feel of a Jewish neighborhood. Its streets are lined with kosher restaurants and food stores, supermarkets with kosher sections, Jewish bookstores and Judaica shops, schools – from Chabad to the first Reform day school in the country – and cultural institutions like Makor, a division of the 92nd St Y and the Jewish Community Council of Manhattan. Posters hung on street lamps and storefronts announce Jewish speakers and concerts. Its many synagogues range from grand to humble, with rich history behind them. Early mornings, it is not unusual to see people rushing off to shuls for the daily minyan (women too, as there are daily egalitarian services) and to the recently-built JCC for daily meditation.
But it is on Shabbat and holidays that the Jewish character of the neighborhood is most visible. Many families and individuals, dressed up to varying degrees, walk comfortably to the synagogues. An eruv strung around the neighborhood enables observant Jews to carry items on Shabbat and push baby carriages, activities otherwise not permitted.
The history of the neighborhood as a Jewish area is closely tied to the history of its synagogues. The neighborhood began to develop as a residential area after 1904, when the subway was constructed, connecting the West Side to midtown and Lower Manhattan. As the area became populated, several synagogues moved uptown, both following and leading their congregants, who moved from Lower Manhattan and points in between. Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue – the oldest synagogue in New York, founded in 1654 – moved to its striking neoclassical building on Central Park West and 70th Street in 1897. Congregation B'nai Jeshurun – the first Ashkenazi synagogue in New York and the second oldest congregation, having broken from Shearith Israel in 1825 – moved to its Moorish Revival structure, on 88th Street between Broadway and West End, in 1918.
The Reform Rodeph Shalom, founded on the Lower East Side in 1842, moved to its Romanesque building on 83rd Street off Central Park West in 1930, from an intermediary building in the East 60s. In celebration of the synagogue's 150th anniversary in 1991, Rabbi Robert Levine and 75 congregants retraced the six-mile journey on foot, from Clinton Street, the site of its first building, to West 83rd Street.
Other synagogues in the area, like the Institutional Synagogue (now called the West Side Institutional Synagogue), on 76th Street off Columbus, and Ohab Zedek, on 95th Street off Columbus, moved to the area from Harlem.
The Jewish Center, a modern-Orthodox synagogue on West 86th Street, had its roots on the Upper West Side. Led by Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, it was the first synagogue-center, founded in 1918 on the philosophy that cultural, recreational and religious activities be incorporated in one institution. When Rabbi Kaplan had disputes with the synagogue, he went on to found the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, one block east on 86th Street in 1922, which would become the first Reconstructionist synagogue.
All the synagogues were functioning in 2006.
In the years before and after World War II, many European immigrants moved to the neighborhood, including refugees and Holocaust survivors. Clusters of Jews from Austria, Czechoslovakia, and also Iraq settled in the area, and brought a foreign flavor and accent to the restaurants and cafes. Many who came from European cities felt at home in the stately prewar apartment buildings along Broadway and West End Avenue, built in the similar styles to those they had left behind.
In the 1950s and 60s, new Jewish residents trickled in, while many Jews left the neighborhood for the suburbs and other places in the city. But in the late 1960s and 1970s, younger Jews began moving to the area; the Havurah movement, embracing small groups that met for study, prayer, and to observe life cycles, established a strong base on the West Side as progressive Jews, many influenced by the counter-culture movement, sought to create alternative, traditional communities based on egalitarianism. Members of groups like the New York Havurah sought new ways to reinvigorate ritual with meaning, much in the spirit of the highly successful Jewish Catalog, a best-selling book that found an audience among the baby-boom generation. Rejecting existing religious institutions, they favored participatory prayer in intimate settings, often meeting in members' homes. Many leaders of the Havurah community would go on to take leadership roles in the New York Jewish community decades later.
One such group began meeting at Ansche Chesed, a once thriving synagogue and community center with a substantial congregation at 100th Street and West End Avenue whose membership had dwindled, and helped bolster and revitalize that congregation. The synagogue and its community center were saved from planned destruction by a community effort that saw Montessori and another locally based, parent-run day-care center rent space in the complex. Since then, many Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and projects co-habitated and revitalized the "plant." That synagogue became a new model: a congregation made up of several lay-led services, going on simultaneously on Shabbat. Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, a co-editor of The Jewish Catalog (before he was ordained), was the first rabbinic leader of the reconstituted Ansche Chesed (and later would go on to lead the Society for the Advancement of Judaism).
At the same time as Havurah movement was getting under way, another significant development in Jewish life was unfolding about thirty blocks south. Under the leadership of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Lincoln Square Synagogue, a modern-Orthodox institution, was founded in 1964; its members first met in the Lincoln Towers complex before erecting their own building in 1970, with an unusual sanctuary-in-the-round. Rabbi Riskin drew young, professional and single people to the new synagogue, delivering weeknight talks on popular topics like relationships, with Torah underpinnings, to overflow audiences. The synagogue became a meeting spot for Jewish singles, many of whom stayed in the area after marrying. In 1983, Rabbi Riskin and his family, along with several Lincoln Square families, moved to Israel and settled in Efrat, where he served as chief rabbi and headed several educational institutions.
In subsequent years, the Lincoln Square population aged, and the center of young Orthodox Jewish single life moved north, to several synagogues in the West 80s and 90s.
Rabbi Sally Priesand, American's first female rabbi, who served the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue for several years beginning in 1972, and Rabbi Marshall Meyer, who died in 1993, made significant contributions to Jewish life in the area. Rabbi Meyer, after spending 25 years in Buenos Aires and founding Jewish institutions there, returned to New York in 1985 and spearheaded the revival of B'nai Jeshurun. Its Friday night services, filled with music, singing, and spirited prayer, attracted more than a thousand individuals, including many young people. The synagogue was nondenominational, having broken with the Conservative movement over the issue of gay ordination. Committed to social action, B'nai Jeshurun became a sought-after model for synagogues around the country.
In 1991, after its roof collapsed, the congregation of B'nai Jeshurun was invited by its neighbors on West 86th Street, the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, to hold services in their sanctuary. Together, congregants of the two institutions created a large banner, with the words of Psalm 133: "How good it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in harmony." It hangs at the front of the church. Even after the synagogue roof was repaired, the congregation continued to use the church on Shabbat mornings and holidays, having outgrown the synagogue space.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the descendent of a German rabbinical family, was known internationally for his neo-Ḥasidic musical style, deep and joyful spirituality and extensive outreach. In his final years, he was based on the Upper West Side, at the Carlebach Shul on West 79th Street. He died in 1994, and the Orthodox congregation continued his tradition of welcoming people from all backgrounds.
Although Lincoln Square Synagogue was the last Upper West Side synagogue to construct a new building, several new congregations were founded without buildings and used the facilities of schools and community centers. These minyan groups stressed community and took prayer seriously; their services were traditional and experimental, not necessarily defined by denominational boundaries.
Along with synagogues of every denomination, there were "beginner's services" in various synagogues as well as smaller congregations known as shtiblach, usually named for the rabbi who led them, and located in brownstones on the side streets. The area also had a Chabad and other Ḥasidic presence: it was not uncommon to see men walking on Shabbat in traditional shtreimels and bekeshes, long black tailored coats.
There was fluidity among the congregations, with some people belonging to several institutions at once, others who attended services in different places, and people who moved from synagogue to synagogue. In the years before 9/11, when there were fewer security concerns, synagogues jointly held outdoor Simchat Torah celebrations, with dancing in the streets, and some returned to the practice as tensions eased. The synagogues and minyan groups convened together for Yom HaShoah commemorations. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish community is out in force. It gathers on the walkway above the banks of the Hudson River for the ceremony of Tashlikh, casting breadcrumbs into the water and reciting verses from Scripture relating to repentance. It is one of the more colorful scenes of city life, with fashionably dressed women, men in new suits, and some in more casual clothing exchanging greetings of the new year.
Some of the synagogues featured soup kitchens and operated shelters for the homeless. Some housed nursery and afternoon schools.
A neighborhood landmark that drew shoppers as well as tourists, Zabar's was a long-running family business on Broadway, featuring traditional Jewish specialties along with other food, fancy and plain. Barney Greengrass, an appetizing store and café on Amsterdam Avenue, was famous for its smoked fish, and Murray's, on Broadway, was a neighborhood favorite for similar fare. The dairy restaurants of decades ago, where neighborhood habitués like Isaac Bashevis Singer – the Nobel laureate who had a section of West 86th Street named in his honor – are no more. They gave way to kosher steak houses, sushi bars, pizza shops, and places that served Moroccan, Yemenite, and other ethnic food.
On any given evening on the Upper West Side, it was possible to hear Jewish music, attend a kosher cooking class, or study Jewish texts, listen to a Jewish author read from a new work, participate in a healing service, or sit in on a panel discussion on Jewish issues of the day. That tradition was likely to continue.
[Sandee Brawarsky (2nd ed.)]
With its hills and parks overlooking the Hudson and Harlem Rivers, Washington Heights at the northern end of Manhattan proved especially attractive to European immigrants. The Heights was one of the last parts of the island to be settled. Before World War I, the areas east of Broadway and south of 181st Street became an urban neighborhood, but the more affluent areas to the north and west were settled mainly in the 1920s and 1930s. Virtually all the neighborhood housing consisted of five- and six-story brick apartment houses.
The first Jews in Washington Heights were mainly immigrants from Eastern Europe and their children who moved to the Heights from the Lower East Side or from neighboring Harlem, especially in the 1920s and 1930s. A number of institutions that were founded in Harlem moved north with their followers and constituents. Although located in Manhattan, Washington Heights resembled Jewish areas of second settlement in the Bronx and Brooklyn more than other parts of its own borough. Jews never made up a majority of the population, though they were probably between 35 and 40% of the total. Other ethnic groups included persons of Irish, Greek, and Armenian background. Washington Heights was considered a prestigious middle-class area, and in 1928 Yeshiva University relocated to Amsterdam Avenue in Washington Heights precisely because of the prestige of the address. The Moorish building of the university's main building became the nucleus of a campus that sprawled over a number of blocks on the eastern end of the neighborhood between 184th and 187th Street.
In the late 1930s the Jewish community was reinforced by a large influx of German-speaking Jews fleeing the Nazis. In all, 20,000 to 25,000 German-speaking Jews settled in, constituting about 40% of the Jewish population. Although Washington Heights was the home of the largest concentration of German Jewish escapees from Nazi Germany, its residents were not typical of the overall wave of German Jewish immigrants of the 1930s. Those in Washington Heights were atypical in their greater religious traditionalism, their overwhelmingly South German and often rural background, and their relatively modest socioeconomic and education levels. Though more "bourgeois" than most immigrants to the United States, the German Jews of Washington Heights bore little resemblance to the famous "intellectual immigrants" of the 1930s.
Most of the newcomers arrived between 1938 and 1940. Some moved to Washington Heights immediately. Others joined them. In the late 1930s, the newcomers began to build a network of institutions and give the neighborhood a German Jewish atmosphere. Social clubs and places of entertainment played an important role in the life of the community until about 1950, although many German Jews also found culture and entertainment outside of Washington Heights. After World War II German Jewish institutional life in the neighborhood was concentrated in the numerous immigrant synagogues founded between 1935 and 1949. Besides a dozen congregations organized by the immigrants themselves, there were several pre-existing synagogues in which they gained a majority and heavily influenced the congregational atmosphere. The synagogues influenced by German Jews in Washington Heights stretched across a broad spectrum, from the Reform Hebrew Tabernacle to right-wing Orthodox congregations.
Most of the synagogues followed Orthodox forms, though in some of them strictly observant Jews were in the minority. The largest German Jewish congregation in Washington Heights was K'hal Adath Jeshurun, founded in 1938 by former members of the separatist Orthodox community of Frankfurt, which had once been headed by
Samson Raphael *Hirsch
. The congregation was called Breuer's, after its first rabbi,
(1882–1980), Samson Raphael Hirsch's grandson. The Breuer community established an all-encompassing European-style communal structure highly unusual for the United States. Besides its large synagogue, social hall, and burial society, it had its own kashrut supervision, mikveh, school system from nursery school through postgraduate yeshivah, synagogue newspaper (Mitteilungen), and charitable and women's groups. Most of the other German synagogues in the neighborhood were also large and formal, often with several cantors, a choir, and an involved institutional structure.
Although German Jews were far from a majority of the population of Washington Heights, the German Jewish character of the neighborhood was evident in many subtle ways. Many of the immigrants spoke German at home and on the street, even after they learned some English, although the German language was almost never used in shop signs or public notices. German was also used in synagogue sermons and bulletins well into the 1960s. From the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, there was a slow transition to English after which German disappeared from every official capacity in synagogue life, though individual congregants sometimes continued conversing in German.
German Jewish culture was also evident in the conservative styles of dress and formalism in interpersonal behavior. German immigrants could often be seen sitting on benches in the park or standing in groups on the sidewalk conversing quietly in German. Some sat for hours over a cup of coffee in local restaurants talking about the olden days. As a sophisticated and educated group, many German Jews brought their libraries of German literature with them and attended classical concerts in other parts of the city. Even synagogue social events sometimes included classical music. These interests in high culture were not nearly as common among the many rural Jews who settled in Washington Heights. In general the immigrants who came to Washington Heights had a far stronger Jewish identity and more intense Jewish religious practice than German Jews who settled in other neighborhoods. Most severed their sense of connection to Germany after World War II. Though some residents of Washington Heights made occasional visits to Germany, to visit the graves of their relatives, see their hometowns, or do business, a larger number visited Israel, with which they had a far closer emotional tie.
Like most other immigrants, the great majority of the German Jews of Washington Heights sent their children to public schools, where they rapidly became acculturated to the English language as well as American political and cultural values. Most gave their children some supplemental Jewish education in synagogue Hebrew schools, though a growing proportion of the Orthodox minority sent their children to Jewish day schools. The American-born generation had little identification with the German culture of their parents, rarely
learned German, and almost never spoke it to one another. They also rejected many of the cultural values of their parents, especially what they considered the older generation's formality and rigidity. Members of the second generation saw themselves as American Jews whose German background was only a small part of their identities.
The children of the immigrants generally did well economically and educationally. Unlike most of their parents, they went on to higher education and entered the professions. Probably more than half married outside the German Jewish community (but generally not outside the Jewish community). As they grew up and succeeded, most of the children of the immigrants moved away from Washington Heights to the suburbs or more prestigious neighborhoods in New York. Some of the more successful of the immigrants also moved away.
The overall ethnic makeup of Washington Heights underwent a slow but thoroughgoing change. In the late 1940s and the 1950s, blacks and Hispanics began moving in large numbers into the southern sections of Washington Heights, which soon became merely a part of Harlem. In the 1960s and 1970s people of color slowly became the majority of the population of all of Washington Heights, except a small section of northwest Washington Heights near Fort Tryon Park. Most of the white residents moved away, though German Jewish outmigration may have been a bit slower than the "flight" of other white groups. Washington Heights became a primarily Hispanic neighborhood populated mostly by people from the Dominican Republic. The shops and institutions catered mainly to the new population, with many signs in the Spanish language. The social prestige of the neighborhood declined as crime and drug trafficking increased.
As they became more and more of a minority in the neighborhood, the remaining Jews organized to defend their stake in the area. They ran candidates for the local school board, organized a safety patrol, settled recently arrived Soviet Jews in the neighborhood, and created a Jewish neighborhood council. This council was dominated by the Breuer community, whose role among Jews became ever greater. Unlike other congregations, the Breuer was able to retain a considerable portion of its American-born generations within the neighborhood.
By the late 1980s, the German Jews of Washington Heights were an aging and shrinking community mainly huddled in one part of western Washington Heights. Most of their synagogues closed, moved, or merged, many German Jewish stores and food shops closed, and the German Jewishness of the community became less and less apparent. Besides the remnant of the German Jewish immigrant community, the main Jewish elements that remained were the campus of Yeshiva University and the Russian-speaking recent arrivals, neither of whom interacted very much with the German Jews.
The "decline" of Washington Heights began to be reversed in the late 1990s and thereafter. Two groups of young people began to move into the neighborhood. The first consisted mainly of Orthodox Jewish singles and young couples, often studying at, or recently graduated from, Yeshiva University. They tended to live near the campus in the eastern part of the neighborhood or on Bennett Avenue near the Breuer synagogue. Few of them were of German-Jewish background and most stayed in the area only a few years, but they did give a boost to the German Jews who had remained. The second group consisted of upwardly mobile young professionals attracted by the area's closeness to midtown Manhattan and its picturesque views of the Hudson River. Some of these newcomers were Jews but they rarely showed much interest for the Jewish culture of the neighborhood. They tended to live in co-ops or condominiums on the streets bordering the Hudson River south of Fort Tryon Park, an area that real estate agents began to call "Hudson Heights" to distinguish it from the rest of the neighborhood. This new population brought with it many of the features of gentrification of poor neighborhoods, including finer restaurants and cultural events. By the beginning of the 21st century, real estate values in the area began to skyrocket. The remaining German Jews, in the early 21st century, who had come to America as children or adolescents, were now mostly in their 80s or even older. Whether the Jews ever return in large numbers remains to be seen.
[Steven Lowenstein (2nd ed.)]
Three bridges unite the boroughs of Manhattan with Brooklyn – the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Williamsburg Bridge. After it opened in 1903, the Williamsburg was nicknamed Jews' Highway because it drew immigrants from the teeming Lower East Side to the south Brooklyn neighborhood adjoining the East River. Served by trolley cars and an elevated subway line, Williamsburg became one of New York's major Jewish communities in the early part of the 20th century.
Williamsburgh (the h was later dropped) was first incorporated as a village in 1827, but its history goes back to 1638, when the Dutch West India Company purchased the land from Canarsie Indians. A period of squatting by farmers of various nationalities followed. It did not become a major residential area until 1803, when a real-estate investor, Richard Woodhull, purchased 13 acres of land, to be surveyed by his friend, Jonathan Williams, a grandnephew of Benjamin Franklin who planned and built most of the forts in New York Harbor. Williamsburg would later be named in Williams' honor.
Woodhull and Williams intended the area to be a residential alternative to Manhattan, accessible by ferry. Williamsburg became a city in 1827, with new docks, shipyards, and other businesses that profited from proximity to New York's port. The New York Navy Yard, colloquially known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, was opened in 1801 and employed 6,000 men by the start of the Civil War. By the 1850s, Williamsburg had grown into a suburban-style city, with 31,000 people, and it was home to resorts, farms, distilleries, and breweries. It later became part of the city of Brooklyn, which joined New York City in 1898. The availability of jobs drew immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany, and England.
The character of Williamsburg would change dramatically, though, when the Williamsburg Bridge, built to relieve traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, caused the displacement of almost 20,000 people and the destruction of their property. With Williamsburg linked to the Lower East Side, farms, resorts and mansions gave way to multiple-unit dwellings to accommodate the waves of immigrants. By the 1920s, the population exceeded 250,000, and the area was one of the most densely populated regions of the country.
In 1938, the growing need for public housing led to the first federal housing project in the nation, the Williamsburg Houses. The project, which cost about $12 million, accommodated 1,622 low-income families in 20 four-story apartment houses. These buildings were the forerunner of a series of low-income and middle-income subsidized housing in the borough and the city. Completed near the end of the Depression, the projects, as they were known, provided clean and fresh apartments for civil servants, small-business owners and others, regardless of religion, and were an oasis of greenery in an area of small, largely dilapidated wood-frame housing. Almost 70 years later, in the 21st century, the projects continued to provide low-rent accommodations to a changing population. The working class influx also fueled an industrial boom, and Williamsburg became a center of manufacturing until a decline in the 1950s.
After World War II, the area was host to the renaissance of the Satmar Ḥasidic sect, which was nearly obliterated by the Nazis, and a majority of Jews living in the neighborhood today are Ḥasidim. The New York Jewish Population Survey of 2002 estimated that 57,600 Jews lived in Williamsburg, 40,000 of them Ḥasidic. In 2006, the Satmar, the men distinctive by their long black coats and shtreimels, or fur hats, and the women by their conservative dress and wigs and turbans as head coverings, was believed to be the world's largest Ḥasidic sect with 100,000 adherents. The name Satmar comes from the Romanian Satu Mare, or large village. Members of the Pupa, Wien, and Klausenberger sects, named for the areas of Europe from which they emigrated, also had a presence in Williamsburg.
The explosion of Williamsburg Ḥasidic life began in 1946 with the arrival of the Satmar Grand Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, who escaped from Nazi-occupied Hungary and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The community thrived, founding an extensive network of synagogues and yeshivas and organizations like Bikur Cholim, providing help and support for the sick and needy. Overcrowding led followers to establish a satellite community, Kiryas Joel, in Orange County, NY. During the 1950s and subsequent decades Williamsburg's Jews ran the gamut of religious observance and affiliation, but the non-Ḥasidic population gradually declined. When Rabbi Teitelbaum died in 1979, his nephew, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, formerly known as the Sigeter Rebbe, succeeded him. Since 1999, the sect has been engulfed in conflict after Rabbi Teitelbaum named his younger son, Zalman, to lead the central Satmar synagogue, Yetev Lev Bikur Cholim, bypassing his eldest son, Aaron, whose followers were mostly in Kiryas Joel. Factions supporting both brothers battled for years in court, and occasionally on the streets, where their clashes prompted a police response.
Bedford Avenue, with historic brownstones in tip-top condition, was one of the leafier enclaves of Jewish Williamsburg, and was along the route of the annual New York City Marathon. Although they rarely ventured out of their life of study and religious practice, it was not unusual to see the Ḥasidim cheering on the runners and providing refreshments during the race. On one particularly hot day, the Ḥasidim sprayed runners with seltzer, adding to the color of the race. The shopping strip on Lee Avenue had a distinctive Jewish flavor, with decades-old businesses flourishing under signs in Yiddish and English, and restaurants and take-out stores filling the air with the scent of kosher food. Children were everywhere, an average of about eight to a family. By the early years of the century, new grand synagogues were being built by the Satmar, while a few modern Orthodox congregations, like Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom on Rodney Street, persisted.
Beneath the surface of the bustling and thriving community, however, was the reality that Williamsburg harbored one of the poorest Jewish communities in the United States, with an estimated 59 percent living below the poverty line and eligible for government services like food stamps and subsidized housing. Many large families lived in cramped apartments, and it was not uncommon to find bathtubs doubling as beds. Some of the members of the sect supported their families by working in the diamond district in Manhattan, but more commonly the men studied or worked in yeshivahs as teachers, which for many was a calling. Some also earned a kollel, or stipend, for learning. The community itself also provided free food for Shabbat.
Jews were not the only large ethnic group in the neighborhood. Spanish-speaking Latinos or Puerto Ricans had congregated in the area following the end of World War II and the need for affordable housing caused stress between the groups. This conflict required regular intervention and mediation by public officials. In 1997, during the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the groups agreed to place proceeds from the sale of city-owned property into a housing fund that would benefit both communities. Amid the conflict, Jews and Hispanics found much common ground, fighting the closing of fire stations and opposing possible environmental hazards like a proposed incinerator on the site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard (since defeated) and hazardous lead paint falling from the Williamsburg Bridge. The area had one of the highest incidences of asthma in the city. Jews and Hispanics joined to address the influx of artists and others fleeing the exorbitant rents of Manhattan studios and apartments. They were drawn to old commercial lofts that the city rezoned for residential use in 1985. Their presence led to the opening of galleries, museums, live-music night clubs, cafes and restaurants and an avant-garde branch of the Museum of Modern Art. The Hasidim,
who shun secular culture, called on members of their community to avoid renting to the artists. Both groups feared that they would be priced out of their own neighborhood if developers catered to the newcomers and that the rezoning they fought for to create affordable housing would be exploited for profit. The newcomers, however, helped to stabilize and revive the over-all neighborhood.
In the early 1950s, low-income Williamsburg was the scene of a sweeping transformation when the city planner Robert Moses designed the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to pass through the neighborhood, cutting it in half and leaving the western segment between the highway and the East River, a destination for poor immigrants, in decline. Some 5,000 people were displaced, and numerous homes and businesses were condemned by eminent domain to clear space for the project. Many later attributed the area's high asthma rate to exhaust from the heavy expressway traffic. The Brooklyn Navy Yard was decommissioned in 1966, although it was sold to New York City and later became a major industrial park, with over 200 business tenants and 3,500 employees.
In addition to rabbinic councils and charities, the area's Jewish community was served by the United Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group affiliated with the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. Led for many years by Rabbi David Niederman, the organization lobbied for and administered government funding and acted as liaison with public officials. Jewish leaders played a significant role in charting the future of the neighborhood.
In May, 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council approved a plan to rezone the North Side of Williamsburg and Greenpoint for residence and a waterfront park as well as luxury high-rises. The population of the area could increase by 40,000. The plan also aimed to attract top-name retailers. Critics lamented that the plan did nothing to return the thousands of lost manufacturing jobs to the neighborhood, which dropped from a peak of 93,000 in 1961 to fewer than 12,000 in 2006. They also feared that the city would not be able to improve transportation and safety in the area, and that it would make Williamsburg more like Manhattan.
New York City's $78.5 billion budget for FY 2015-2016 included $1.5 million in assistance allocated to Holocaust survivors living below the poverty line. The budget was finalized and approved on June 21, 2015, and also includes $25 million for services for senior citizens. According to the New York based Holocaust survivors advocacy group The Survivor Initiative, there are 64,000 Holocaust survivors living in New York City in 2015, half of whom live on an income of less than $11,000 per year.
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