Strength in Numbers

Jeffrey Gurock on New York City’s Ever Changing Jewish Landscape

In the early part of the 20th century, Jewish identity was in the streets and the air of New York City—nearly one in four New Yorkers was Jewish.

After decades of declining numbers, the Jewish population in the city has begun to grow once again—for the first time in 50 years—to nearly 1.1 million. Dr. Jeffrey S. Gurock, Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University, shared his thoughts on New York’s ever changing Jewish landscape in the latest issue of Segula Magazine:

(Segula Magazine, June/July 2012)

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, 1949. All over New York—downtown, uptown, Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn—stores closed for the High Holy Days, as the devout went off to services in shuls and temples of every size and denomination. But outside the synagogue walls, along the boulevards, many more Jewish men, women, and children promenaded, dressed in their holiday best, eager to see and be seen. Strolling through their Jewish city, these masses had nothing against religion per se; they just felt it was not for them. Of all the images typifying New York’s hustling, bustling Jewish community of Gotham, as New York City was affectionately nicknamed, this scene is perhaps the most enduring, still playing itself out on the upscale
streets of Manhattan today.

Rhapsody in Bronx

For more than a century, New York City boasted the world’s largest Jewish community (only in the new millennium, has Tel Aviv surpassed it). Of the 2.25 million immigrants to the United States between 1881 and the First World War, close to two-thirds came through Castle Garden and later Ellis Island in Manhattan’s harbor. From there, the Lower East Side became their home. By 1917, there were 1.5 million Jews in Gotham, living not only downtown but in new areas in Upper Manhattan—most notablyYorkville and Harlem—and in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Brownsville districts. One out of every four New Yorkers was Jewish. This numerical strength persisted through the prosperous 1920s as well as the vicissitudes of the Great Depression and the war years. Read the full article in Segula Magazine…

Prof. Gurock is also the co-author of a new book in the series City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York (New York University Press) scheduled for publication on September 10. Titled Jews in Gotham: New York Jews in a Changing City (1920-2010), the book focuses on New York City neighborhoods, exploring Jewish life within the streets of the metropolis and showcasing the reasons for the city’s continued preeminence as the capital of American Jews. The three-volume series explores the relationship Jews have had with New York City and how they have been a visible and integral part of the City’s culture, economy and politics, beginning with the first Jews to arrive to New Amsterdam in 1654, and moving through history to present day.

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