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October 9, 2015 / 26 Tishri, 5776
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Lower East Side’

The Chief Rabbi’s Funeral

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

           In a recent front-page essay (May 30, 2008) and in last month’s “Glimpses” column we traced the life of Rabbi Jacob Joseph (1840-1902). Rabbi Joseph, who studied in the famed Volozhiner Yeshiva, was an outstanding Talmudic scholar and one of Rav Yisroel Salanter’s main students.

In 1888 he came to America to serve as the chief rabbi of New York. Unfortunately, his efforts at bringing order to the chaotic situation in the kosher meat business were unsuccessful. In addition, the organization that had brought him here, the Association of American Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, declined to the point where it began to renege on its obligation to pay Rabbi Joseph’s salary.
Conditions took a serious turn for the worse in the spring of 1895, when the retail butchers banded together and rejected the chief rabbi’s authority and dispensed with his supervision.
A contemporary wrote, “The Rabbi was left without any income and is in dire straits, and there is nothing that can be done with him now. He and his whole family are in very serious difficulties.”[i]

Reduced to abject poverty, Rabbi Joseph was forced to move his family to a squalid Lower East Side tenement flat.


To Rabbi Joseph’s financial distress was added physical illness. He was confined to his bed, an invalid the rest of his life. The community that had once hailed him now completely neglected him. Forgotten was all he had done to elevate the position of the East European Jew in New York and to establish dignity and integrity in the religious institutions that served him. All but forgotten, he lay on his bed of pain, remembering what had been and musing no doubt on what could have been.
At the end of July 1902, the Chief Rabbi once again became the topic of discussion. On the 28th of the month he breathed his last, and headlines announced his demise the next day. He died at fifty-nine [sic], after a five-year confinement to his bed because of paralysis. [ii]

The Funeral

Word of the rabbi’s death spread rapidly throughout the Lower East Side, and the very people who ignored him while he was alive felt obligated to honor him in death. There was an unprecedented outpouring of grief from all segments of the Jewish community. A funeral procession through the streets of the Lower East Side was planned, with stops at the main Orthodox synagogues, where the chief rabbi was to be memorialized.

It soon became clear that thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of mourners planned to participate. Recognizing both the probable enormity of the crowd and the legal requirement to procure a permit for such an event, one of the organizers [of the funeral] called upon the local police. After receiving permission for the march, he informed the police official on duty that as many as 20,000 people might participate. He left assured that twenty-five policemen would be in place the next day and that more could be had if requested. [iii]

The morning of July 30, 1902 witnessed a huge funeral procession following the casket of the chief rabbi.

Behind it stretched a line of 200 carriages bearing family members, local officials, wealthy merchants, and dozens of prominent rabbis from around the country. Standing before them on both sides of the street stretched a crowd of 50,000 to 100,000 mourners.

Weeping, wailing, and the chanting of Psalms filled the air as the massive entourage made its way to each of the main Orthodox synagogues. The crowds struggled and occasionally surged as particularly zealous mourners sought to touch the casket, but remarkably no serious incident occurred. Two hours later, after recitation of the final prayers, the last leg of the march to the ferry at the end of Grand Street (the cemetery was in Brooklyn) commenced. Turning east on Grand Street, the procession soon came upon a massive brick factory that housed the famed printing press manufacturing firm of R. H. Hoe and Co.[iv]

There, unbelievably, a full-fledged riot began. The chronology of the events that led to this riot is given below. presented in stages.

Stage One: As the procession began to pass the Hoe factory, some workers who had climbed onto the roof or gone to  upper-story windows to get a better view of the procession, started throwing a variety of items including food, water, oily rags, and pieces of wood and metal at the mourners.

Stage Two: The mourners were outraged at such disrespect for so solemn an occasion. Some of them began throwing the missiles back at those who had tossed them; others burst into the factory in an effort to stop the assault.

Stage Three: The first-floor office workers were unaware of what was transpiring outside. Therefore, when the irate mourners, many of them screaming in Yiddish, burst into the first floor of the factory, they panicked. The police were called. In addition, in an attempt to “protect” themselves from what appeared to be an unruly mob, they turned on the fire hose and doused the “invaders.” Some anti-Semitic remarks were shouted at the mourners, who were quickly expelled from the factory building.

Stage Four: Meanwhile, out in the street, a general melee ensued. The fire hose was aimed indiscriminately at those outside the building, whether they had been in the building or not. The mourners responded by hurling bricks, rocks and other items at the Hoe Building. Most of the building’s windows were shattered. However, this situation did not persist for very long. Indeed, the scene outside the factory began to calm down by the time the head of the funeral procession began boarding the ferry to Brooklyn, located a half mile past the factory.

Stage Five: “A few minutes later, at 1:20 p.m., a squad of 200 policemen, summoned at the outbreak of hostilities by the Hoe employees, arrived on the scene under the leadership of Inspector Adam A. Cross. ‘Without a word of warning or any request to disburse,’ stated the report on the incident commissioned be the mayor, the police ‘rushed upon the remnant of the gathering, some of them with great roughness of language and violence of manner.'”[v]

In the end, hundreds of people were injured, primarily by the clubs and fists of the policemen. Eleven Jews were arrested. Nine were fined between five and ten dollars each and then released. The other two were held for $1,000 bail for inciting a riot. Eventually, four employees of the Hoe Company were also arrested.
The Jewish community of New York was outraged. Charges of anti-Semitism were leveled at the workers of the Hoe Company as well as at police. In addition, the police were accused of treating as criminals people whose only “crime” was that they had peacefully participated in the chief rabbi’s funeral possession.
Protest meetings were organized demanding that Mayor Seth Low, who had been elected a year earlier on a pledge to reform the police department, form an investigative committee to look into this incident.
Such a committee, consisting of notable reformers and including two prominent Jews, was indeed formed. It took testimony from many witnesses and issued a comprehensive report that condemned, in no uncertain terms, the brutal actions of the police. The police commissioner, Colonel Partridge, eventually stepped down. Two officers also resigned, and a number of others were transferred to precincts that did not include the Lower East Side.
             The tragic story of Rabbi Jacob Joseph’s tenure as chief rabbi of New York had concluded with an infamous anti-Semitic incident at his funeral.  It marked the end of the attempt to establish a central rabbinical authority over New York’s Jewish community.

The chief rabbi was survived by his wife, a son, and two daughters.

[i]“New York Chooses a Chief Rabbiby Abraham J. Karp, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961) Sep 1954-Jun 1955, 44. This article is available at http://www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.




[iii]  “Hibernians Versus Hebrews? A New Look at the 1902 Jacob Joseph Funeral Riotby Edward T. O’Donnell, Journal Of The Gilded Age And Progressive Era, Volume 6, Number 2, April 2007, page 211.


[iv]  Ibid., pages 211-212.


[v]  Ibid., page 213.


Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at  llevine@stevens.edu.

The Fantastic Four’s Jewish Family Values

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

     The summer wedding season is here, and even comic book characters are getting into the act. In the sure-to-be blockbuster movie opening this week, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” the First Family of superheroes will meet their greatest challenge yet: marriage!
      The Invisible Woman and Mr. Fantastic are finally about to tie the knot, but before we can say mazel tov, their new nemesis, the Silver Surfer, ruins the big day. This metallic intergalactic villain (who looks like a silver-dipped Academy Award come to life) is here to prepare planet earth for destruction. And only the Fantastic Four can stop him.
      The Silver Surfer turns out to be a herald of Galactus, the devourer of planets (talk about overeating!). The Silver Surfer was once an ordinary humanoid until Galactus threatened his planet. In return for sparing his home, Galactus transforms him into the Silver Surfer, charged with seeking out planets for Galactus to destroy.
      The idea for the all-powerful Galactus character apparently came about when the comic’s creator suggested having “the Fantastic Four battle God.”
      How did things get so theological? The Fantastic Four were created for Marvel Comics in 1961 by the Jewish dynamic duo of writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. My book Up, Up and Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero reveals the fascinating Jewish motifs and values in popular comics, including the Fantastic Four. Unlike other superheroes, the Fantastic Four did not rely on double identities and disguises. In their alternative world, they were actually high-profile celebrities, headquartered on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
      The family dynamic among the four characters was unmistakable from the start. Prior to The Fantastic Four, the family unit was never explored within the comic book genre. Superheroes tackled the dirty work of saving the world alone and only worked together out of necessity.
      The Fantastic Four were different. In the comic, once Invisible Woman and Mr. Fantastic married the team became, quite literally, a family. Three of the four are directly related – the Human Torch is the Invisible Woman’s brother. The Thing (Ben Grimm) takes the role of crusty uncle, stubborn child, and bratty teen all rolled into one bulky package.
      The family is the very heart of the Jewish community, the vessel through which moral values and spiritual practices have been handed down for thousands of years. After the destruction of the holy Temple, the traditional Jewish home took on many of its functions.
      Shalom bayit is the term given to the promotion of peace and harmony within the home, and The Fantastic Four depicts this ongoing struggle for peace within a family. While they are often, quite literally, at each other’s throats, these characters are also willing to risk their lives for the safety of their “family.”
      Over the years, Fantastic Four fans have felt particular affection for that misunderstood creature, The Thing. The Thing has extreme strength, is impervious to bullets, and can endure intense physical pain. He’s not, however, immune to emotional pain.
      In many ways, The Thing personifies his creators’ Jewish origins. The Thing’s real name is Benjamin Jacob Grimm. Born on the “earthy” Lower East Side of Manhattan, he belonged to the Yancy Street gang in his youth. Young Jack Kirby fought street gangs on the Lower East Side, too, where Delancy is the main street.
      Grimm’s youth comes back to haunt him in the famous 2002 story “Remembrance of All Things Past.” In that issue, released some forty years after his debut, the Thing’s true Semitic identity is finally revealed. He’d previously kept it a secret, explaining, sadly, “There’s enough trouble in this world without people thinking Jews are all monsters like me.”
      While Judaism has its roots in the accomplishments of powerful patriarchs and matriarchs, a special emphasis is also placed upon the tribe: the synthesis of everyone’s talents for the greater good. The Hebrew word for tribes, shevatim, means “branches,” alluding to their separate yet united nature. In Lee and Kirby’s universe, not even superheroes live in a vacuum. Sometimes they have to rely on their fellow super-colleagues to assist them when the going gets tough.
      In an age of terror we all – more than ever – need a return to family values, working together to combine our powers and talents for the greater good. Even a flashy Hollywood movie based on a popular comic book can be a way to convey this important message (in between onscreen explosions and corny jokes, of course).

      Rabbi Simcha Weinstein is the Chabad campus rabbi for Downtown Brooklyn. His book “Up, Up and Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero,” was the recipient of the 2007 Benjamin Franklin Award for best religion book. His book on 21st century Jewish comedy will be published this fall. He can be reached via his website at www.rabbisimcha.com.

All Around The Town

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006


         Anger’s Way Out – Helping Children Deal With Their Feelings. Join author and counselorKarin Biron-Deckel, as she discusses her new book Anger’s Way Out. 7:30 p.m. Friedberg JCC, 15 Neil Court, Oceanside, L.I. 516-766-4341 ext. 114. www.friedbergjcc.org.


         Rich Cohen, author of Sweet and Low, will speak as part of Jewish Book Month at the JCC, 411 E. Clinton Ave., Tenafly, N.J. 8 p.m. 201-569-7900 x 233.


         “The Last Days” – film screening at Rosenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, CUNY, 265 Fifth Ave., N.Y.C. 6:15 p.m. 212-807-1949.


         The Tanya: GPS For The Soul, by Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, introduces concepts of Chassidic spirituality in: “The Tanya: GPS For the Soul – Navigating Your Way Through Life”. 7 p.m. Chabad Lubavitch of Midtown Manhattan, 509 Fifth Avenue. 212-972-0770.


         “Beyond Eruv” – Winner, Best Feature Documentary. Screened at Makor, 35 West 67th Street (between CPW and Columbus Ave.), Manahttan. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org


         Russian Shabbat: Join RJeneration, a dynamic social network of young professionals with Jewish roots and Soviet heritage. Hear from journalist Boris Fishman, author of a recent article in The New Republic, “Glasnost Grows in Brooklyn.” 7 p.m. RSVP. Makor, 35 West 67th Street (between CPW and Columbus Ave.), Manhattan. 212-601-1000.  www.makor.org


         Shabbat Luncheon, with singing by Nachum Deutsch. Yorkville Synagogue, 352 E. 68th St., N.Y.C. Shacharit at 9 a.m. Divrei Torah by Rabbi J.D. Bleich. 212-249-0766.


         Sephardic Music Festival. Makor, 35 West 67th Street (between CPW and Columbus Ave.), Manhattan. 8 p.m. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org


         Chanukah Party. Friedberg JCC, 15 Neil Court, Oceanside, L.I.  11 a.m. 516-766-4241. www.friedbergjcc.org


         Dreidel House, featuring Small Wonder Puppet Theater. Chabad Lubavitch, 419 E. 77th St., N.Y.C. 11:45 a.m. 212-717-4613.


         Chanukah Art Fair, ages 3+. Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave., N.Y.C. Noon; Gallery Tour, ages 8-12 at 10:30 a.m.; Concert, Hot Pea’s and Butter Celebrate Chanukah, ages 3+ at 2 p.m. 212-423-3271.


         Sephardic Concert and Scholarship Series. 8 p.m. Makor, 35 West 67th Street (between CPW and Columbus Ave.), Manhattan. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org


         The Menorah: Symbol of Truth – talk by Rabbi Eliyahu Kirsh. Beth Chaim Learning Center. 8 p.m. 718-851-1237. Call for location.


         The Bnai Zion Chanukah Party. 7:30 p.m. High Chai, 18 Avenue B, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. 212-725-1211 ext. 222.


         Rosh Chodesh program for women. JCC, 411 E. Clinton Ave., Tenafly, N.J. 7:30 p.m. 201-569-7900.


         The Art of David Schwab – reception and talk at the Friedberg JCC, 15 Neil Court, Oceanside, L.I. 7:30 p.m. 516-766-4241 ext. 114. www.friedbergjcc.org.


         The Chai Center will “Light up the Night” with a giant outdoor menorah at the intersection of Deer Park Avenue and Vanderbilt Parkway.  501 Vanderbilt Pkwy., Dix Hills. 6 p.m. 631-351-8672. mail@thechaicenter.com


         Menorah Lighting at the Plainview Shopping Mall, Woodbury Rd. at S. Oyster Bay Rd. junction. 4 p.m. 516-682-0404. Town of Oyster Bay Chabad.


         Makor Dreidel Slam. Makor, 35 West 67th Street (between CPW and Columbus Ave.), Manhattan. 212-601-1000. www.makor.org


         All-night Chanukah bash featuring live klezmer by the Alex Kontorovich Trio, theater performances and ninja puppetry with Dov Weinstein. Latkes, jelly doughnuts and wine included. 7:30 p.m.


         Chanukah Party. Israel American Foundation. Workmen’s Circle, 45 E. 33rd St., N.Y.C. 2 p.m. 212-869-9477.


         Zionism: Yesterday and Today – talk by Rabbi Eliyahu Kirsh. Beth Chaim Learning Center. 8 p.m. 718-851-1237. Call for location.


         Jewish walk and talk of the Lower East Side with Dr. Phil. Meet outside Katz’s Deli, 205 E. Houston St., N.Y.C. 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. 888-377-4455.


         Family gallery talks, storytelling and art workshops. 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave., N.Y.C. 212-423-3271.


         Jewish walk and talk of the Lower East Side with Dr. Phil. Meet outside Katz’s Deli, 205 E. Houston St., N.Y.C. 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. 888-377-4455.


         18th annual Yeshivas Yarchei Kallah of Flatbush. One Week Kollel at Congregation Bais HaKnesses, 1040 East 17 St. (near Ave. J). 9-5 daily. Call 718-998-5822 to enroll.

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

Beautify The Shrines
   This is the time of year when we, the Jewish people, visit our holy places in Israel. Having just visited Kever Rachel, I am appalled by what has happened to it. It has become a prison. Its foreboding look and entrance are beyond belief. I know this has happened because the Muslim community is bent on the destruction of all Jewish holy sites and wishes to eradicate any and all of our ties to our holy and precious land.
   A suggestion: The Jewish National Fund, which is dedicated to revitalizing our land, could plant beautiful flower-bearing vines all across the ugly walls. It could landscape areas near the kever, even planting flowers with an intoxicating perfume that would enhance the memory of Mother Rachel who pleads for the children of Israel to come back to their homeland.

Toby Willig



Clinton’s Record

   Re Bill Clinton’s claim that he fought terrorism in the 1990’s:
   Remember how Clinton congratulated and shook the hand of a known and evil terrorist, Yasir Arafat, who was responsible for the killing of hundreds of innocent victims, including Americans? Arafat admitted to being directly involved in terrorism and to directing other terrorists to carry out their terrible acts. But Clinton still said that Arafat was a man of peace and repeatedly welcomed him here with open arms.
   And Clinton really thinks he fought terrorism when he was president?

Catherine French

Los Alamos, NM


Communal Action On Kashrus

   Ary Kempler’s letter last week on the Monsey kashrus scandal is Exhibit A as to how something so shocking can occur – and why it probably will occur again. As your editorial on the subject argued, we as a community cannot be primarily concerned with the personal consequences that arise for a particular rav hamachshir as a result of his mistakes. Nor is it a question of whether he personally acted in accordance with halacha (except in terms of the level of credence henceforth given his certification).
   No, the concern must be how we as a community can fix an obviously broken system. Whatever the validity of the old practice of relying on the integrity of the merchant, this approach is, at the very least, problematic in today’s world.
   And no, this is not a non-Orthodox approach – i.e., changing halacha to conform with newly emergent realities. No one ever said that reliance on the merchant was halachically required, only that it was acceptable. This is no different from the common plaint one hears from Orthodox leaders that, given the times we live in, special precautions must be taken in many areas of life. If the profit motive has become such an important factor, we must react accordingly.

Pinchas Hammerman

(Via E-Mail)


Myth Of Haredi Anti-Zionism

   I was pleased, though somewhat surprised, to see Reuven Lesher’s letter to the editor on “Haredim and Israel” in last week’s issue. Since Lesher debunks the widespread notion that the haredi world is opposed to the State of Israel, one might have thought that The Jewish Press, with its longstanding and well-known position that modern Israel is part of the fulfillment of the Divine plan for the rebuilding of biblical Eretz Yisrael, would hesitate to expose its readers to a well-thought-out rejoinder to the Religious Zionist argument. That you gave reader Lesher a platform is commendable.
   Actually, I think you performed quite a public service. While I believe Mr. Lesher glossed over the fundamental antagonism of European haredi leadership to any Jewish state arising before the advent of Moshiach, he is eminently correct in pointing out that today there is scant opposition, in practical terms, to the current state, for the reasons he gives.
   Other than those on the Neturei Karta fringe, no one in the Orthodox world actually and actively wishes the Jewish state ill.

Rabbi Zvi Herman


On The Other Hand
   Forget all the sophistry. Haredim will never accept a Jewish state that is not brought about by Moshiach. You can talk all you want about frum Jews sending their kids to learn in Israel and about the Tehillim they recite in shul, but the bottom line for them is that without Moshiach, the Jewish state is inconsistent with halacha and it would have been better had it never been established. That’s the emes, once you strip away the current-day politically correct expressions of support.

Heshy Hartstein

(Via E-mail)


Ramp Of Kindness


   This year, for the first time, I led Yamim Nora’im (High Holy Day) services at a major Jewish hospital. A clergy member pointed out to me that there were fewer people this year than last. I responded, “Baruch Hashem. That means there are less people who are sick!” It’s probably the only kind of minyan about which one can say the less, the better.

   I noticed something I had not seen in any other shul I’d ever been in. There was a ramp leading up to the bimah to enable those in wheelchairs and on IV’s to get an aliyah. It reminded me of the Beis HaMikdash and the Mishkan which had a ramp leading up to the Mizbayach (altar).
   I prayed that just as the sacrifices on the Mizbayach brought aboutkappara, atonement, so too should the effort made to enable the sick to get an aliyah procure an atonement for us and for all of Klal Yisrael.
   The word for ramp in Hebrew, “kevesh,” is comprised of same letters as the verb “kavash,” which means to suppress. This word is used in both the Machzor and Siddur. After recounting the story of the Binding of Yitzchak, we recite: “Just as Avraham suppressed his mercy from his only son…so may Your mercy suppress Your anger from upon us.”
   What better symbol than a ramp to ask Hashem to suppress His midas hadin, His attribute of harsh judgment, with His midas harachamim, His attribute of mercy, during these fateful times we live in?

Rabbi Mordechai Bulua

Montreal, Canada


British Perfidy


   Dvora Waysman’s “Still the People of the Book?” (op-ed, Sept. 22), was most certainly timely for this period of the year. Although being essentially contemporary, it recalled the past as it impacts our lives today.
   The subject of the British and Palestine is vast and extends well beyond their cruelty to the Jews. While there are many books on the subject, the writing of Elie Kedourie is particularly lucid and comprehensive. In 1970, Kedourie published a collection of his essays under the title The Chatham House Version and Other Middle East Studies. It was Chatham House, a British think tank, that exercised a profound influence on UK policy in the Middle East from the 1920’s through the 1950’s.
   The centerpiece of Kedourie’s discussion is his questioning of the negligent manner in which the British broke up the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. To Kedourie, the guilt generated by liberalism drove the British to retreat from their imperial commitments, leaving behind what he described as “a wilderness of tigers.”
   Loss of will led to misinterpretation of the Arab and Muslim society, to mistaken judgments and broken promises. In effect this meant an abdication of responsibility to those the British once ruled. Kedourie foresaw what we are now experiencing: in one Arab country after another, and beyond in the Third World, independence has brought tyranny, not freedom, to people in no position to defend themselves.
   Who can forget British prime minister Harold Macmillan proclaiming “the winds of change”? Apparently neither the U.S. State Department nor the EU has derived any lessons from the errors of the past as both trot out “New World Orders” and “Road Maps” that are in fact the same dead bones in different clothing.

Alex Rose

Bet Shemesh, Israel


Magazine Section

   The Magazine section of The Jewish Press is a very helpful resource for readers dealing with all manner of family difficulties. On behalf of other single divorced moms, I would like to thank you for providing advice and information about special organizations that help us deal with the after-effects of divorce. I find the columnists to be helpful, informative, supportive and non-judgmental. May Hashem reward them for their chesed and you for making this section available.
   Thanks for caring, and I hope the section will continue to endure and help all those who need it.

Gisele Strauch

Brooklyn, NY





Arnold Fine’s Fantasyland


      I don’t know which Lower East Side Arnold Fine visited and wrote about in his Sept. 22 “I Remember When” column, but it surely wasn’t the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the year 2006.
      Of course there are no longer 500,000 Jews living in teeming tenements. But there are 30,000 Jews living in the community board (Manhattan #3) a number far greater than the 7,000 or 8,000 that Mr. Fine seems to have plucked out of thin air.
      Mr. Fine refers to public housing and – amazingly – totally ignores the 4,400 units of cooperative apartments along Grand Street and East Broadway, the heart of the Jewish community. These apartments are now selling at upwards of $500 a square foot (for example, a one-bedroom of 800 square feet in size selling for $450,000). Poor Jews?
      Mr. Fine reminisces about Bernstein’s on Essex Street. – I confess we all do. But from reading “I Remember When” it sounds like there are no longer any kosher establishments on the Lower East Side. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Fine makes no mention of 41 Essex Street, Noah’s Ark, East Side Glatt, the Sholom Chai pizza store, Kossar’s Bialys, M and M Dairy, Gus’s Pickles, the Pickle Guys, Gertel’s Bakery, Moishe’s Bakery, East Broadway Bakery, and other kosher establishments all alive and well on the East Side.
      Of course the Lower East Side has poor people; what neighborhood doesn’t? But the latest Jewish population census data actually records that the percentage of poor on the Lower East Side is no greater than that on the Upper East Side.
      And there are so many young families on the Lower East Side. We boast yeshivas such as Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim, Bais Yaakov of the Lower East Side, and many families send their children uptown to Manhattan Day School, Yeshiva Ketana and Ramaz. Check out the many baby carriages being wheeled on a typical day on the Lower East Side.
      In addition, the column contained not a mention of the leadership of the worldwide Jewish community residing on the Lower East Side, including Harav Hagaon Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, shlita; Harav Hagaon Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, shlita; the speaker of the New York State Assembly, the Hon. Sheldon Silver; our judges – Justice Richard Price, Justice Martin Shulman, Judge Shlomo Hagler, Judge David Cohen; communal leaders Heshie Jacob, president of Hatzolah, and Willie Rapfogel, executive director of Met Council; and the famous radio host Nachum Segal, among others.
      I’m afraid Mr. Fine is living in some fantasy world and has brought everyone along with him. But he has not checked out the reality, nor visited or picked up the phone to anyone living here.
      I would love to give him a tour of the very vibrant community we call the Lower East Side.

Joel Kaplan, Esq.

Executive Director

United Jewish Council of the East Side

Jewish Roaches

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

The Contract With God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue

(A Contract With God, A Life Force, Dropsie Avenue)

By Will Eisner

W. W. Norton, 2006

Hardcover, 544 pages, $29.95




        Cockroaches are not usually associated with Judaism. They might show up unwanted during Pesach cleaning. But they do not chew their cud, nor do they have split hooves. They are equally lacking in the fins and scales departments, and they seem to be absent even from the list of kosher creepers and crawlers like certain varieties of locusts. But as Will Eisner illustrates in his graphic novel, The Contract With God Trilogy, roaches were frequent players in the lives of Jewish immigrants in the early part of the century.


         Eisner, who died in January 2005, is often hailed as the father of the graphic novel (a medium that joins the novel with the hardcover children’s picture book) and one of the most important comic book artists. In a review in these pages in July of 2005, I explored Eisner’s book (posthumous) The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and I discussed Eisner’s ability to navigate the tight line between art and propaganda. Eisner’s The Contract With God Trilogy is somewhat of a more ambitious plot to tackle the narratives that surround a specific Lower East Side neighborhood, particularly Dropsie Street.


         The story was first published in 1978, when Eisner was 61-years-old. But it was not until more than a quarter of a century later (just before he died) that he chose to publish the story with two other stories that also surround Dropsie Street. The narratives are packed with tragedy, sadness, hope, hard work, ill luck, the sociological and ethnic evolution of the neighborhood, and many, often schizophrenic, attempts to reach out to religion for guidance.


         Perhaps the most compelling part of the book is Eisner’s manipulation of the roach as a metaphor. In Eisner’s hands, roaches become compelling metaphors for the Jewish immigrants’ struggles in America. In a section called “A Life Force,” Eisner begins, “Who knows who knows, why all the creatures of earth struggle so to live. Why they scurry about, run from danger and continue to live out a natural span, seemingly in response to a mysterious Life Force. So, the question is why? What for? Ask the insects Maybe they know!” The roaches that Eisner draws on the page have their backs turned to the reader, and they seem unfazed by the question and reluctant to offer much help as they scurry up a wall.


         But later on, in a chapter called “Izzy, The Cockroach, and the Meaning of Life,” a poor carpenter, Jacob Shtarkah, encounters a roach and begins to unravel the insects’ full significance. As he walks home from the synagogue after the rabbi, Benjamin, cannot find any more work for him, the rabbi calls after him, “Go Jacob Go to Lakewood Take a rest Sit in the sun You’re entitled You worked hard all your life.” All Jacob can think is, “Five years! Doesn’t he understand? It wasn’t just a living I was making something!”


Jacob and Izzy, overturned


         The something that Jacob was making was “a reason for living! Otherwise, how is a man different from a cockroach??” Jacob wonders as he walks hunched over down a dirty alley with his hands in his pockets and his hat pulled just over his eyes. Tired and emotionally drained, Jacob has a heart attack and falls to the ground clutching his coat just near his chest area. “Oy, Gottenoo! I can’t move my legs My chest hurts Oy-vey, I’m dying!!”


         As Jacob’s wife, Rifka, prepares for Shabbos wondering where her husband is, she shakes a rug out of her window, and a roach (named Izzy incidentally) falls from the rug down two flights’ onto the ground right beside Jacob. Unbeknownst to Rifka, her husband lies just below her window. The roach, meanwhile, has landed on its back, and as it tries in vain to right itself, Jacob asks it, “So?? Mister Cockroach,” (he apparently doesn’t know it is named Izzy) “What are you struggling for?? To maybe stay alive a few days more?” But then Jacob softens. “Well To tell the truth, so am I trying to stay alive! So, then, what’s the difference between us?? You being only a cockroach, just want to live! For you it’s enough! But me I have to ask, why!?”


         Jacob’s meditations (he thinks them to be his last) recall Kohelet’s observation (3:19), “For that which befalls men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man has no preeminence above a beast: for all is futile.” So entrenched in his cynical (Kohelet style) thoughts is Jacob that he fails to notice a tough-looking man walking toward him. He stops the man just in time, before the roach gets crushed.


Izzy, after Jacob saves his life


         The man is so angry with Jacob for grabbing his leg that he reels back to smack Jacob. Jacob candidly replies, “So, go ahead, hit me!… One zetz and I’m dead. So, at least I’ll die for a reason!… That, at least, I can understand Go ahead, you bum.” However, the man misses the grand roach lesson of life, and dismisses the whole situation. “Aaaaaaehhh, over a cock-a-roach I ain’t gonna kill ya crazy old fool!”


         Jacob’s good dead goes repaid, and he hears Rifka’s voice calling him. He finds his hat, puts it on, and stumbles around the corner. The roach also manages to right itself, and it finds a discarded jar, undoubtedly with some food in it. But this is hardly the last time roaches make an appearance in the trilogy.


         Jacob, sitting depressed near his window while contemplating his difficult marriage, sees a roach on the floor. He picks it up, climbs out the window onto the fire escape, and tosses it down to the alleyway. The roach lands properly on its feet this time, and as it walks away, Eisner embeds text within the images of the roach walking away looking for food. “As far as we know, the cockroach is not an endangered species. Its population on the earth is unrecorded. Its proliferation on a global scale seems unaffected by the growth in human population who regard it as a threat to their need for a sanitary environment.”


         Eisner turns a clinical eye on the roach’s preferred climate and cycles of maturity. But the roach “seems mainly preoccupied with feeding and reproduction. For all their long inhabitation of this planet, there is little evidence that the cockroach has evolved genetically or altered its life expectancy. It has an unquestionable life force evidenced by its will to live!”


         This then is the difference between the roaches and the Jewish immigrants. Like the roaches, Jews have been thought of as filth and persecuted. At many points in history in many homes, housekeepers would have preferred roaches scurrying about to Jewish visitors. But like Eisner’s roaches, Jews have “an unquestionable life force evidenced by [their] desire to live.” Unlike the roach, however, Jews have evolved.


         Eisner’s Jewish immigrants move out of the neighborhood to greener pastures. They would later have a Jewish state in Israel to celebrate. But it is Eisner’s unique genius as both an artist and writer to use the metaphor of the roach and its persistence to symbolize the Jewish families living on the Lower East Side. The roach becomes Eisner’s equivalent of the Biblical invocation of our origins in dust (Adam is shaped out of the “dust of the land”). It is both a humbling metaphor as well as an ennobling one.


        Menachem Wecker is a painter and assistant editor of B’nai B’rith Magazine in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at www.mwecker@gmail.com

Introducing The Mets In Yiddish

Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

A Jew Grows in Brooklyn

Written by and starring Jake Ehrenreich

Lamb’s Theatre

130 West 44th Street, New York

(212) 239-6200


“When you go back and you think about what it is,” Jake Ehrenreich told me over the phone, pausing to put down his cell phone whenever he saw a nearby police car, “it’s all about tradition.” Tradition and cell phones might be the perfect symbol for Ehrenreich’s new autobiographical play, “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn.” The play is a tale about growing up from being the kid who tried so hard to be all-American, only to be reduced to “super immigrant Jew kid with Holocaust survivor parents.” Then his mother would call him into the house from his stickball games, yelling “Yonkee!” Fast forward to Ehrenreich’s career, singing and acting, beginning with hotel gigs in the Catskills.


Brooklyn has become somewhat of a theatrical “frequent flyer” lately, which Mark Schoenfeld’s and Barri McPherson’s recent Broadway show, “Brooklyn: The Musical” – which proved as stylized and unconvincing in its portrait of Brooklyn as “What a Girl Wants: London Calling” – was in its portrayal of the capital of England. But Ehrenreich’s off-Broadway affair presents a convincing portrait of Brooklyn, for which the playwright spent a year and a half interviewing his father and rummaging through boxes of old family photographs. The first draft of the script – which was initially titled “Growing Up in America,” but was changed to underscore the Jewish angle – was a whopping eight hours, but Ehrenreich knew he wanted to cut the play to fewer than two hours for the sake of his audiences’ attention spans.


For his part, Ehrenreich is “so grateful and surprised that audiences keep coming, and how many tell their mothers and sons you gotta go see it.” The play is so popular, because the tale is so familiar to the audience, which is overwhelmingly Jewish and middle-aged and beyond. Audience members recognize Ehrenreich’s tale of his parents who lived on the Lower East Side, “the center of the immigrant Jewish world.” Jake’s father, who was fired from his upholster’s job when the foreman told him “your best is not good enough,” eventually built a furniture company that allowed the family to move away from the Lower East Side.


Throughout the performance, Ehrenreich – who wears a Samuel J. Tilden High School sweatshirt – plays with a rubber ball (“which everybody insisted on calling a spaldeen; although it clearly said the word Spaulding on the ball”). He delivers stand-up comedy (“I love when people from Brooklyn are here, because it means there are fewer of you out there to be robbing my house Actually, if you go back far enough, everybody is from Brooklyn did you know that scientists believe the first amphibian came out of Sheepshead Bay?”). He also sings and plays the trumpet, trombone and a long drum solo.


Jake Ehrenreich in “A Jew Grows In Brooklyn”, a new comedy musical at The Lamb’s Theatre. Photo by Carol Rosegg.



Like Woody Allen’s “Radio Days,” Ehrenreich’s tale is largely a nostalgic one about music. He first dreamt of being a rock n’ roll musician, and when he learned that a favorite singer, Manfred Mann, was really Manny Lubinsky, he said, “I didn’t know and I didn’t careI just wanted to get as far away from my mother’s Yiddish records as I could.” But midway through “California Dreamin,” Ehrenreich encounters, “California dreaming on such a winter’s day. Stopped into a church.” and he stops. “Here I am, I’m living my life through the American top 40, but they still gotta give me a little kick in the kishke stopped into a church, how is it, in all the years I’m listening to pop music, no one ever stopped into a shul?” To his horror, Ehrenreich realizes, “All of the rock and roll songs, and all of the Christmas songs were written by people with the sameJewish background as mineevery time I try to get out, they pull me back in!”


With his first musical gig one summer in the mountains, Ehrenreich earned $35 a week; he spent the other half of the summer in camp. He remembers those performances as “the finest training ground there ever was for singers comedians and musicians. We got an opportunity to work with talent, way beyond our scope.” One time, the performer had to stop the band because Ehrenreich and his peers (about age 11) could not keep up with the music. The performer turned to the audience and said, “Ladies and gentleman, these are excellent musicians they just saw the music for the first time a few hours ago, and we’re going to try it again.” With “desperation, but love in his eyes, he said ‘fella’s, let’s try it again from letter A.’ We learned so much watching the poise of these performers!”


Jake Ehrenreich in “A Jew Grows In Brooklyn”, a new comedy musical at The Lamb’s Theatre. Photo by Carol Rosegg.



In a sense, Ehrenreich’s response to his Jewish music crisis as a youth came when he introduced the Mets at Shea Stadium. Upon his father’s advice, Ehrenreich introduced the players in Yiddish. “Un yetz mayne libe Metnicksayer NY Mets! Der ershter shlugger, shpilndik tzvaite baze, numer tzvelveRoberto Alomar!” Of the introduction, Ehrenreich imitates the MasterCard commercial: “Introducing the ballplayers in Yiddish $500. Seeing the faces on the Cincinnati Redspriceless.”


As much as Ehrenreich’s tale is a cell phone tale – of a younger generation trying to “fit in” by masking its relation to parents with accents – it is most significantly a tale of memory and tradition, especially of the Holocaust. The memories are especially sad for a child of survivors. But to Ehrenreich, the period of shiva is only for a prescribed time, and then “you live your life again. We survived. We came here. I now have a son and a wife. We are here. I am here.”


“A Jew Grows in Brooklyn” is an unusual play. On the one hand, it entertains as a comedy and a quasi-musical. But Ehrenreich’s laughs are laughs that say, “Oh, this is what I looked like” – not laughs that mock. The goal is to allow viewers to access their own stories through their similarities to the play’s prototype – “to bring themselves to the American Jewish experience.”


And perhaps the real reason to see the play is its self-meditative act. “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn” reflects not only on one autobiography and not only on tales of second-generation immigrants in New York. Ehrenreich’s tale revives a sort of Jewish culture and sociology that is scarce today. “It is the substance of Judaism that is important, what’s behind and informs the ritual. And it is the same thing with Yiddish; it is informed by religion and culture,” Ehrenreich told me, citing his father. “Look, here’s the difference between the shtetl and Judaism today in the shtetl we knew we were all Jews, without the kind of barriers we have today.”


Menachem Wecker is a painter and assistant editor of B’nai B’rith Magazine in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.   

Latest In Kosher Food

Wednesday, December 8th, 2004

Tastebuds’ delight – Esther’s Best (Kehilla Kashrus, parve) has created a line of dressings that will makes salads mouth-watering delicious. Born in a restaurant called Gio Cafe in Brooklyn, these gourmet handmade dressings are filled with 100% fresh ingredients. With no preservatives added, the dressings have a six-week shelf life, but they are so yummy you’ll find the bottle empty within a few days. The all-time favorite in my house is the Caesar dressing – so rich and creamy and filled with flavor you’ll keep checking the bottle to make sure it’s really parve. Each time I buy it I make sure to buy three to four bags of salad mix because dinner that night is just an excuse to eat the dressing. We also enjoyed the Greek House Salad with the taste of olives and the delicious Balsamic dressing with a hint of sweetness. My brother-in-law is a cumin lover and he called the Cumin dressing first-rate. There are nine flavors all together, and the dressings can be found in groceries around Brooklyn, parts of New Jersey and in the Five Towns. For more information, contact them at 718-375-5437.

Do you love cookies and brownies, but can’t eat them because of a low carb diet? We had the same problem in our house. Then we found Glenny’s (Kof-K, parve) Slim Carb fresh baked products. This all-natural line includes sugar free cookies in chocolate chip, almond and shortbread flavors. My grandmother has a recipe for almond cookies without flour that we make all the time – since we found these Glenny’s cookies, I’ve stopped baking. Filled with lots of flavor – and no after-taste – these cookies are worth a trip to the store. They also have delicious sugar free, low carb fudge brownies and peanut butter brownies that make a great snack with a cup of coffee or tea. Where can you find them? Keep checking with your local grocery, as the line is pretty new and may not be available everywhere yet. You can also visit them on the web at glennys.com

What says party better than a container of sour pickles? How about a container of Gus’ pickles (United Pickle, OU parve)? Those of you who have spent time on the Lower East Side of Manhattan know that the smell of Gus’ pickles permeates the streets. But did you know that you could buy Gus’ pickles just by going to the grocery? And not just pickles – United Pickle, the oldest continually operating pickle company in New York, makes more than just the traditional sour or half-sour pickle. We sampled olives, pickled onions, pickled tomatoes, sweet peppers, relish and much more. The taste of old world New York comes alive in every bite. So, as you make your shopping list for Chanukah, be sure to pick up a Lower East Side staple – a container of pickles from United Pickle.

Have a wonderful Chanukah!

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/food/kashrut-scene/latest-in-kosher-food-6/2004/12/08/

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