top of page

One Of The Lower East Side's Last Synagogues Is Closing

HOST INTRO: An Orthodox synagogue on the Lower East Side is in danger of closing. It’s a Shtiebels, which is a smaller synagogue in a tenement apartment. Until the 30’s or 40’s Shtiebels they lined the Avenue. But today there are just one or two remain. As Uptown Radio’s Cristina Macaya reports, their closure symbolizes a big shift for the neighborhood.


Today, East Broadway looks like any Avenue on the Lower East Side. But, behind the Thai restaurants and renovated apartment buildings lie traces of a once-thriving Jewish community. ((Street Sound Ambi Fade In))

Stamped on the brick wall of a brownstone is a weathered sign. Its blue paint is peeling. And its faded Hebrew letters read Agudath Israel Youth of Manhattan. It marks one of the few remaining Orthodox synagogues on a stretch of East Broadway once known as “Shtiebel Row.” ((Street Sound Ambi Fade Out))


They were taking over every apartment there. You’d have five floors, you’d have five different synagogues. 


Bradley Shaw is a historian with the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy. He gives walking tours, so he knows the neighborhood well. 


The 2.5 millions Jews who settled on the LES. They had come in the 1880s and they basically didn’t speak the language and they weren’t making a lot of money so they had to live in the tenements and they’re living in these all of 600 sq ft apartments with 10 people. 


So, like many groups that once immigrated to New York City, Jews started moving out. Resettling in places like the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. As a result, Shtiebels like Agudath Israel Youth of Manhattan have a problem. There aren’t enough people to lead prayer services so many of these synagogues have closed. But new groups quickly started moving in.


This is an immigrant neighborhood. This went from being German, to being Jewish, to being Puerto Rican, to being South American and now it's gentrifying. Now the hipsters are moving in there. 


One-hundred years ago, the Lower East Side was considered the capital of Jewish America. But today, more than half of its population is Asian and Hispanic… Now the neighborhood is super trendy. And those small apartments that used to house ten people are going for over five-thousand dollars. That’s more than the West Village! So, as shtiebels close down, businesses catering to newer residents are opening. 

((Big Apple Market Ambi Fade In)) 

Right down the block from Agudath Israel Youth of Manhattan is a deli where you can buy a bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato sandwich. 

((Sandwich Order Clip))

Definitely not kosher. According to Rebecca Kobrin, a Professor of Jewish History at Columbia University, the transformation of Shtiebel Row is just another example of New York City’s ever-evolving nature.


This used to be, you know, the main center for Jewish life, East European Jewish life and therefore orthodoxy, but everything has shifted across the 20th century. It speaks to how New York develops over time. One community succeeds another community.


And Lauren Forsch represents a typical resident  today. She lives in a co-op on Grand Street built by Jewish garment workers. She also owns a local business. A CBD shop. 


We’re going around the corner. 


And, she’s Jewish.  


Yeah, I mean, people move, people die, and so you have to make changes. 


And changes have already been made. Stop by East Broadway now, and you’ll see millennials walking their dogs, trendy cafes, and art galleries. But, m useums and conservancies in the area are preserving the Lower East Side’s Jewish history and for those looking for a synagogue, you can always go to the outer boroughs…. Cristina Macaya Uptown Radio News


bottom of page