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November 26, 2015 / 14 Kislev, 5776
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Lower East Side’

The Character Of Rabbi Jacob Joseph

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008
          The Jewish Press recently published three articles about the life of New York’s chief rabbi, Rav Jacob Joseph (1840-1902): “Failed Experiment: New York’s Only Chief Rabbi” (front-page essay, May 30); “The Chief Rabbi Encounters Opposition”  (Glimpses Into American Jewish History, June 4); and “The Chief Rabbi’s Funeral”  (Glimpses, July 4). This column augments the previous pieces by providing some insight into the personality of RJJ, giving readers a feel for the measure of the man.

          When RJJ passed away, he was survived by his wife, Esther Rachel[i], his son Raphael, and two daughters, Mrs. Anna Brody and Mrs. S. R. Schultz. Toward the end of his life, the chief rabbi was under the care of his son-in-law Dr. S. Robert Schultz. His children and his wife were all present when RJJ passed away at 11:45 p.m. on July 28, 1902.[ii]


As soon as the death became known crowds began to gather in front of the house. Nearly a thousand persons were there, and prayers were offered for the rabbi. The fervor of the men and women was striking. Inside the house could be heard loud lamentations over the death.[iii]

(Note: Unless otherwise indicated all quotes below are from “The Position of Chief Rabbi.”[iv])

Many stories about the greatness and philanthropy of the chief rabbi were told after his passing.

“He never knew what money was,” said a President of one of the synagogues last week. “Rabbi Joseph could have left a million dollars, but he died in absolute poverty. Millions passed through his hands. Never a dollar did be hold for himself.”

Rabbi Joseph’s concern for his fellow man and his humility were legendary. He was scheduled to deliver his first drasha on Shabbos Parshas Devarim 5648 (July 21, 1888) at Congregation Bais Medrash HaGodol, located at 64 Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side, where he had been appointed rav. The officers of the congregation anticipated a huge crowd would turn out to hear the chief rabbi speak. They estimated that as many as 50,000 people might show up. However, the shul was designed to accommodate 1,000 people at most. Their concerns about an overflow crowd were justified. The New York Times reported:

At an early hour yesterday afternoon a crowd began to gather in front of Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue, on Norfolk street, attracted by the report that the new chief rabbi, Jacob Joseph, would preach there his Inaugural sermon. As time went on the crowd grew denser, until by 3 o’clock it had filled not only the space directly in front of the synagogue, but the entire block between Grand and Broome streets. It clamored vociferously for admission, and Capt. Webb and 12 stalwart policemen had their hands full trying to preserve order among the struggling mass of people bent on gaining at least a foothold within the temple.
They paid not the slightest heed to the officers’ remonstrances and positive declarations that no more would be permitted to enter.

The synagogue was crowded. It accommodates comfortably about 1,000, but yesterday afternoon it must have contained at least 1,500 people. The heat and lack of proper ventilation caused considerable discomfort, yet every man, and there were none but men present, wore his hat. Several Individuals, evidently not of the Jewish faith, took or their hats, but were at once politely informed that It was contrary to the Hebrew religious law to appear in the synagogue with the head uncovered. [v]

Rav Joseph arrived at 3:45 PM. As the president of the synagogue related:

We decided to sell tickets of admission. Rabbi Joseph was then little known here — that is, his personal characteristics. The doors were opened for the lecture and thousands flocked around the place. Rabbi Joseph, tall, dressed in a frock coat, came through the crowds practically unknown. He went to the door of the church [sic] and saw the people giving up tickets of admission.

“What is this?” asked Rabbi Joseph of the heads of the synagogue who were near the door. It was explained that an admission charge was necessary to keep the people from hurting themselves in the jam at the church [sic]. “Then I will buy one of those tickets,” said Rabbi Joseph quietly. “You don’t need one,” said one of the leaders of the synagogue. “Yes, I do,” replied the rabbi. “I want one ticket to get in, and I want another ticket to take me back whence I came. I won’t stay in a place where the people must pay to hear me lecture.” This was the first time the men in that synagogue were brought in contact with the splendid views of the rabbi who had already won fame as a biblical scholar and teacher.

‘I Don’t Want Your Money’

A Mr. Levy, who was president of one of the many synagogues that dotted the Lower East Side, related the following story:

He came into the world in poverty and he went out in poverty, after devoting his life and every dollar he earned to his fellow beings. No man was ever a broader philanthropist than Rabbi Joseph. One matter I had before him which showed to me his character.
Two brothers became involved in a lawsuit. After a civil action had been begun it was decided by the brothers to take the matter to Chief Rabbi Joseph. The lay judges who were associated with Rabbi Joseph and who were seated around him when he heard statements of his people gave careful attention to the litigation of the two brothers. Rabbi Joseph settled the matter, and the brothers were so well satisfied with his decision that both insisted on giving Chief Rabbi Joseph $200.

“I don’t want your money. I want to help you all,” he said. The two brothers insisted. It then became my duty to give the $200 to Rabbi Joseph. He turned to his lay judges and said: “Take this money and divide it among the first eight needy people who apply for assistance.” That ended the litigation.


The Jacob Joseph Playground

It was mentioned above that Rabbi Jacob Joseph had one son, Raphael Joseph. Raphael had a son Lazarus (1891-1966) who was an attorney, six-time New York State Senator from 1934-45 (21st District 1934-44, 24th District 1945), and New York City Comptroller (1946-1954). Lazarus had a son who was named after his illustrious great-grandfather. Captain Jacob Joseph died during World War II. A park located on the Lower East Side was named in his honor.

           This playground, bounded by Henry and Rutgers Streets, is named in memory of Captain Jacob Joseph (1920-1942), a member of the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, and scion of a family devoted to religious education and civic affairs. Born and raised in New York, Joseph left Columbia University as a junior in 1938 to enlist in the Marines. Joseph died in action at Guadalcanal on October 22, 1942. Five years later, a local law named this playground in his honor. The dedication ceremony was attended by Mayor William O’Dwyer, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, Councilman Stanley Isaacs, and Joseph’s father, City Comptroller, Lazarus Joseph. Parks also unveiled a bronze commemorative plaque on the flagstaff, which celebrates the life and bravery of Capt. Joseph.

This playground was built in part to meet the needs of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, named after Capt. Joseph’s great-grandfather.[vi]

May Chief Rabbi Jacob Joseph long be remembered for his valiant efforts to strengthen Yiddishkeit at a time when there was an overwhelming move on the part of many to reject the religious values of their ancestors. The existence of today’s vibrant American Orthodoxy rests on the groundwork laid by him and others like him.

[i]Obituaries of Esther Rachel Joseph, The New York Times,February 11 and 12, 1922


[ii]Death of Chief Rabbi Jacob Joseph, The New York Times, July 29, 1902, page 9.




[iv]  “The Position of Chief Rabbi: How It Was Made One of Importance by Its First Occupant, the Late Rabbi Joseph — Little Stories Now Told on the East Side Illustrating His Character,  Just Why He Wielded so Great an Influence,” The New York Times, August 10, 1902, page 25.


[v]Hearing the New Rabbi, The Synagogue Crowded and Hundreds Causing Disorder Outside, The New York Times,”July 22, 1888,page 8.




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  

A Tribute To My Beloved Rebitzen, Lillian Chomsky

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Shalom, My Dear Rebitzen Layahle

Shalom my beautiful Rebitzen Layahle, a”h, so sweet and dear

Heavenly angels are surely greeting you, from far and near.

An exemplary life you did lead

Leaving us a wonderful heritage in word and deed.

Outstanding was your friendly and kind smile

Making our lives ever more worthwhile.

Many have done valiantly and stand tall

Your smooth grace and humility excels them all.

Divine inspiration was your constant guide

Experiencing religious life with joyful pride.

Arare treasure in many ways

Resulting in many brighter and blessed days.

Reviewing your wonderful life in brief

Enables us better to endure our grief.

Born in poverty on the Lower East Side

It’s amazing how you rose to give us such pride.

Transplanting luxury for vital need

Zeal and courage led to many a good deed.

Exceptional mom, grandma, wife and community leader

No one could have been more generous and sweeter.

Looking at all the good for family and community you’ve done

Asecure place in Olam HaZeh and Olam HaBa you’ve surely won.

Your premature departure can cause resentment

As we look back, however, we’re filled with quiet contentment.

How much we miss you, no one else can fully appreciate

Losing you, all the world’s riches cannot compensate.

Enter your heavenly dwelling place in peace.

May your intervention help our blessings increase!

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

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewish-roaches/2006/09/20/

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