Exploring the Jewish Lower East Side Neighborhood of NYC

by Gideon

The history of the American Jewish People goes through the Lower East Side neighborhood of New York City. It is the  neighborhood that many Jews called  home when they first arrived in America. Many of them came during the large immigration waves of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Large numbers of the Jewish immigrants settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan where they began their American journey. Some of the most famous American Jewish people  grew up in the Lower East Side. Today, Jewish presence in the neighborhood is significantly smaller then it was at the beginning of the 20th century. However, Jewish life in the neighborhood can be easily seen along Grand Street and in neighboring areas where many Jewish organizations and businesses operate.

We  had the opportunity to explore the Lower East Side on a beautiful sunny June day with Jeff, who spent his childhood in the neighborhood, before starting his professional career and moving out of the neighborhood. Jeff volunteered to show us the area. He has a first hand knowledge of the Jewish community of the Lower East Side. During the tour, we could clearly feel that Jeff is very much attached to his old neighborhood, which he visits on a regular basis. As we walked around the neighborhood, Jeff showed us many of the Jewish landmarks, sharing with us their rich history. We stopped by the Bialystoker Synagogue where his grandfather was the Gabay. Later we passed by the offices of  an active Jewish aid organization where his mother is still working.

The Lower East Side is such a pretty neighborhood. It is impossible not to fall in love with it. I took plenty of pictures. Below are some of them. If you are Jewish and in NYC, take the opportunity and visit the neighborhood. Chances are someone in your family at one time called it home.

Getting out of car at the beginning the tour

With our guide Jeff (second from left)

Views from the Lower East Side: Midtown in the north (left). Freedom Tower in the South (right)

In its beginning, the Lower East Side was a low income immigrants neighborhood. This is not the case anymore. “In 2015, the median sales price of a one-bedroom co-op on the Lower East Side was $550,000, up 10 percent from 2014, according to Gregory J. Heym, the chief economist at Terra Holdings; for a two-bedroom co-op, it was $829,000, up 15 percent. The median for a one-bedroom condo was $1.4 million, an increase of 20 percent over 2014; for a two-bedroom condo, it was $1.8 million, an increase of 13 percent. Sales of three-bedroom condos and co-ops were rare, he said… Joe Safdie, an agent with Misrahi Realty, which owns or manages 2,000 units in the area, said rents for typical studios range from $2,000 to $2,500 a month; one-bedrooms, $2,200 to $3,000; two-bedrooms, $3,000 to $4,200; and three-bedrooms, $4,500 to $5,500. ‘There are a lot of shares going on,’ he said.'” – www,nytimes.com

Mesivtha Tifereth Yerushalaim (Jerusalem) yeshiva – the city’s oldest yeshiva. It has been training scholars and rabbis in the intricate study of the Talmud.

UJC serves as a coordinating body of neighborhood, secular, civic and fraternal organizations. Formed in 1971 by neighborhood leaders and residents, the UJC works to preserve and stabilize the Lower East Side of Manhattan community through the provision of a wide range of human services and community development programs. While the majority of programs are oriented to the needs of the elderly, UJC also operates a wide range of programs for families and children.

The original Forward Magazine building, built in 1912. When it was constructed, it was the Forward Building, a house devoted to labor, that dominated the structures around it. During its lifetime, the famous Lower East Side structure has housed influential socialist groups, an evangelical church, and now luxury condos.

The Bialystoker Synagogue located on Willet Street, now called the Bialystoker Place. The fieldstone building was built in 1826 in the late Federal style.  The building is made of Manhattan schist from a quarry on nearby Pitt Street. The exterior is marked by three windows over three doors framed with round arches, a low flight of brownstone steps, a low pitched pedimented roof with a lunette window and a wooden cornice. It was first designed as the Willett Street Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1905, the congregation, at that time composed chiefly of Polish immigrants from the province of Bialystok,purchased the building to serve as thier synagogue.  During the Great Depression, a decision was made to beautify the main sanctuary, to provide a sense of hope and inspiration to the community. The synagogue was listed as a New York City landmark on April 19, 1966. It is one of only four early-19th century fieldstone religious buildings surviving from the late Federal period in Lower Manhattan. In 1988 the Synagogue restored the interior to its original facade, and the former Hebrew school building was renovated and reopened as The Daniel Potkorony Building.  It is currently used for many educational activities.  

The Bialystoker Synagogue

The Bialystoker Synagogue

“In 1912 a group of young and idealistic Orthodox Jewish men and women living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan started a Friday night lecture series that would eventually give birth to the Young Israel Synagogue of Manhattan and the world-wide Young Israel movement. They were motivated by the then-powerful forces of Reform Judaism and secularism, both of which were luring young people to abandon the Orthodoxy of their immigrant parents; in the case of the former, with a more “Americanized” and non-halachic form of synagogue worship, and in the case of the latter, with cultural programs and social events. The lecture series–which was given space in several local synagogues and featured some of the leading rabbis and religious scholars in America–proved to be wildly popular. And the “model synagogue” that was established, in which young men led the services and which featured congregational singing, quickly outgrew its original quarters at 205 East Broadway and began to rent space at the Educational Alliance.  In 1929 the Young Israel Synagogue of Manhattan moved to a larger home at 229 East Broadway. To the cultural and social programming were added classes in Tanach and Jewish Law, all overseen by Young Israel’s founding rabbi, Rabbi Dr. David Stern, ztz”l. And a youth program was added as well, in which hundreds of neighborhood girls and boys enjoyed sports, music, crafts, and social events in an environment of Yiddishkeit. A Mother’s League and, eventually, a Sisterhood followed. As some of the founding members moved on to other neighborhoods, Young Israel synagogues were established in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island, and in cities throughout the United States, making Young Israel a national movement dedicated to the preservation and advancement of Orthodox Judaism.” – www.yimanhattan.org


     Kosher restaurants on Grand Street

A view of the park entrance from the street

A Mikveh

A street view

Henrietta Szold Public School