The First Roumanian-American Congregation, also known as Congregation Shaarey Shomayim (Hebrew: שַׁעֲרֵי שָׁמַיִם, “Gates of Heaven”), or the Roumanishe Shul (Yiddish for “Romanian synagogue”), is an Orthodox Jewishcongregation which, for over 100 years, occupied an historic building at 89–93 Rivington Street on the Lower East Side ofManhattan, New York.
Those who organized the congregation in 1885 were part of a substantial wave of Romanian-Jewish immigrants, most of whom settled in the Lower East Side. The Rivington Street building, built around 1860, had previously been a church, then asynagogue, then a church again, and had been extensively remodeled in 1889. It was transformed into a synagogue for a second time when the First Roumanian-American congregation purchased it in 1902 and again remodeled it.
The synagogue became famous as the “Cantor’s Carnegie Hall“, because of its high ceiling, good acoustics, and seating for up to 1,800 people. Yossele Rosenblatt, Moshe Koussevitzky, Zavel Kwartin, Moishe Oysher, Jan Peerce and Richard Tucker were all cantors there. Red Buttons sang in the choir, George Burns was a member, and Edward G. Robinson had his Bar Mitzvah there.
The congregation’s membership was in the thousands in the 1940s, but by the early 2000s had declined to around 40, as Jews moved out of the Lower East Side. Though its building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, the congregation was reluctant to accept outside assistance in maintaining it. In December 2005, water damage was found in the structural beams, and services were moved to the living room of the rabbi’s mother. In January 2006, the synagogue’s roof collapsed, and the building was demolished two months later.
First Roumanian-American/Congregation Shaarey Shamoyim
From 1881 through 1914, approximately 2 million Jews immigrated to the United States from Europe. An estimated three-quarters of them settled in New York City, primarily in the Lower East Side. Over 75,000 of these immigrants were from Romania, where Jews faced antisemitic laws, violence and expulsion. These hardships, combined with low crop yields and economic depression, resulted in 30 percent of the Jews in Romania emigrating to the United States.
Romanian Jewish immigrants in New York City gravitated to a fifteen-block area bounded by Allen, Ludlow, Houston and Grand streets. This “Romanian quarter” became the most densely populated part of the Lower East Side, with 1,500 to 1,800 people per block. These immigrants founded the First Roumanian-American congregation, also known as Congregation Shaarey Shamoyim.
The origins of the congregation are disputed; its establishment in 1885 may have been a re-organization of a congregation originally founded in 1860. Located initially close to the Romanian quarter at 70 Hester Street, and later situated at the heart of it with the move to Rivington Street, the synagogue was the preferred house of worship for the quarter’s inhabitants.
Rivington Street building
The Rivington Street building was constructed as a Protestant church around 1860 by the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church, which served the area’s large German immigrant community. In November 1864 the building was sold to the Orthodox German-Jewish Congregation Shaaray Hashomayim (“Gates of the Heavens”), which had been founded in 1841. Though its Hebrew name was essentially the same as that used by the First Roumanian-American congregation—Congregation Shaarey Shamoyim—which later purchased the building in 1902, the two congregations were unrelated.
By the late 1880s, the German-Jewish community had mostly moved from the Lower East Side. In 1889, Congregation Shaaray Hashomayim moved to 216 East 15th Street, nearSecond Avenue, selling the Rivington Street building to the New York City Church Extension and Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which built or purchased churches, missions, and Sunday schools in New York City.
The Church Extension and Missionary Society engaged J. Cleaveland Cady to design major alterations to the structure. Cady was, at the time, New York’s most famous church architect, and had designed many other public institutional buildings, including university buildings, hospitals and museums. His work included the original Metropolitan Opera building (since demolished), the Richardsonian Romanesque West 78th Street wing of the American Museum of Natural History, and several other buildings for the Church Extension and Missionary Society. The renovations cost approximately $36,000 (today $945,000), and included an entirely new Romanesque Revival facade in the reddish-orange brick that Cady also used on several other churches.
Renamed the Allen Street Methodist Episcopal Church (or Allen Street Memorial Church), the Rivington Street building’s new purpose was to “attract Jewish immigrants seeking conversion“. It was, however, unsuccessful in this endeavor. In 1895, the church’s pastor stated, “The existence of the church here attracts few. Our audiences are small, and contain almost no Jews.”
“Cantor’s Carnegie Hall”
The synagogue’s sanctuary had a high ceiling and “opera house” characteristics, and was renowned for its “exquisite” or “magnificent” acoustics. Known as “the Cantor’s Carnegie Hall”, First Roumanian-American became a center for cantorial music, and many of the greatest cantors of the 20th century led services there. Yossele Rosenblatt, Moshe Koussevitzky, Zavel Kwartin and Moishe Oysher all sang there, as did Jan Peerce and Richard Tucker before they became famous opera singers. Having a reputation for good cantorial singing had a positive impact on a synagogue’s finances; congregations depended on the funds from the sale of tickets for seats on the High Holy Days, and the better the cantor, the greater the attendance.
Red Buttons sang at the synagogue with Rosenblatt in 1927, and when visiting the synagogue almost 70 years later could still remember the songs. Though his family actually went to a “small storefront synagogue“, Buttons was discovered, at age eight, by a talent scout for Rosenblatt’s Coopermans Choir, who heard him singing near the intersection of Fifth Street and Avenue C, at a “pickle stand”. Buttons would sing in the choir for three years. Eddie Cantor has also been claimed as a choir member, though this is less likely.
Oysher—”the greatest of all popularizers of cantorial singing”—became the synagogue’s cantor in 1935, and the congregation’s membership peaked in the 1940s, when it numbered in the thousands. In a 1956 interview by Brendan Gill in The New Yorker magazine, Oysher described First Roumanian-American as “the most orthodox Orthodox synagogue in town”. Oysher died of a heart attack two years later “at the young age of 51”. The week of his death, he had said, “half-jokingly”, that he wanted only one person to deliver his eulogy: Chaim Porille, rabbi of the First Roumanian-American Congregation. Porille had been born in Uscieczko (then in Poland) in 1899, and moved to the United States in 1927, to serve as rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Providence, Rhode Island. He became rabbi of First Roumanian-American in 1932, a post he filled until 1962, and was a member of the executive board of the Agudath Harabonim. He died in September 1968.
First Roumanian-American synagogue building on Rivington Street
Appearances in popular culture
The synagogue building can be seen in the 1956 film Singing in the Dark, starring Oysher, and also starring (and produced by) Joey Adams. The entrance can be seen in the panoramic photograph of the corner of Ludlow and Rivington streets found on the Beastie Boys‘ 1989 Paul’s Boutique album cover foldout, and the building (and Jacob Spiegel) can also be seen in Raphael Nadjari’s 2001 film I Am Josh Polonski’s Brother.
Demolition of the Rivington Street building
Carved stones from the arch of the entrance to the collapsed First Roumanian-American synagogue and its former Talmud Torah, incorporated into the entrance of the building next door at 95 Rivington Street
For more details, see:
Street scenes in the area
Stop 96: Former Synagogue
121 Ludlow Street
Was Chevra Kadisha Anshei Sochechov in a remodelled tenement in the 20s
Stop 97: Essex Street Market
Essex Street, between Broome and Stanton Street
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Route map: Google / Bing
Tenements on Essex Street between Hesterand Grand Streets
Essex Street is a north-south street on the Lower East Side of the New York City borough of Manhattan. North of Houston Street, the street becomes Avenue A, which goes north to 14th Street. South of Canal Street it becomes Rutgers Street, the southern end of which is at South Street.
Essex Street was laid out by James Delancey just before the American Revolution as the east side of a “Delancey Square” intended for a genteel ownership; Delancey returned to England as a Loyalist in 1775, and the square was developed as building lots.
Long a part of the Lower East Side Jewish enclave, many Jewish-owned stores still operate on the street, including a pickle shop and many Judaica shops. It is also home to the Essex Street Market.
South of Hester Street, Essex Street is bordered on the east by Seward Park.
The IND Sixth Avenue Line of the New York City Subway runs under Essex Street and has stations at Delancey Street (F J M Z trains) and East Broadway (F train).
Essex Street Market
The Essex Street Market, constructed in the 1940s, is an indoor retail market that was one of a number of such facilities built in the 1930s under the administration of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia at 120 Essex Street, at Delancey Street. It was in September 2013 that it was announced that the market would be integrated into the Essex Crossing.
The Essex Street Market is operated and managed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). The 15,000-square-foot (1,400 m2) market is made up of approximately 35 individual stalls that range in size from 90 to 600 square feet (8 to 60 m2). Tenants include Davidovich Bagels, which opened the first of its worldwide bakeries in the Essex Street Market on October 10, 2013.
In September 2013 it was announced that the market would be integrated into the Essex Crossing.
Stop 99: Schapiro’s Kosher Winery – Former
124 Rivington Street
Founded in 1899. During the Depression, Schapiro’s was allowed to operate as its product was for religious purposes.
Stop 98: Lansky Lounge
Norfolk, North of Delancey Street
The rear of Ratners used to be a “Speak Easy” during the Depression.
Named for gangster, Mayer Lansky.
Entrance via an underground alley.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- This article is about the kosher restaurant in New York City. For the former British jewellery company, see Gerald Ratner.
Ratner’s was a famous Jewish kosher dairy (milchig) restaurant on the Lower East Side of New York City. Since it did not serve meat in deference to the kosher rule about not mixing milk and meat products, it was often regarded as a complement to Katz’s Deli.
Ratner’s was founded in 1905 by Jacob Harmatz and his brother-in-law Alex Ratner, who supposedly flipped a coin to decide whose name would be on the sign. Ratner sold his share in the restaurant to Harmatz in 1918, and it remained in the Harmatz family from then on. Jacob’s son, Harold Harmatz, took over the business in the mid-1950s, dying a year after the restaurant ceased operation in 2002.
Brunch was the main meal at the dairy restaurant, and up to 1,200 people were served daily at the peak of its popularity. Noted menu items included cheese blintzes, potato pancakes (latkes), hot onion rolls, and split-pea soup. Other key items were gefilte fish, poached salmon-in-aspic, kasha varnishkes, and vegetable borsht. and many recipes survive in print.
The original location was on Pitt Street in Manhattan, but the restaurant moved in 1918 to its better-known location at 138 Delancey Street, where it would remain until its closing. There was also a location on Second Avenue, operated by other members of the family. Until 1975, it was open 24 hours a day and therefore part of the late-night city scene popular with Jewish performers, actors, musicians, andgangsters. Entertainers Bill Graham, Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, Marty Allen, Eydie Gormé, Walter Matthau, Elia Kazan, Max Gordon,Groucho Marx, and Alan King were all regular customers, while gangsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky frequented the Delancey location.
Prior to the closing of the Delancey Street location, a back room at Ratner’s was opened as a bar called “Lansky’s Lounge,” named after the then-deceased gangster who, according to Robert Harmatz, told the owners he was there so often that he deserved to have his own room. The lounge has since closed as well
, though another bar continues to exist in the space.
The Ratner’s located at 111 Second Avenue, run by Abraham Harmatz, actually surpassed the Delancey Street restaurant in popularity for many years, especially during the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Lower East Side gradually became known as “The East Village” — a hip and creative Mecca. In fact Sam Jaffe, the longtime night manager of The Second Avenue Ratner’s, worked with Fillmore East impresario, Bill Graham, in stocking the Fillmore’s mezzanine food concession with Ratner’s baked goods.
In popular culture
An exterior scene of Ratner’s is shown in the movie The French Connection, where Angie and Sal Boca have a sunrise breakfast.Ratner’s was also featured at the end of the “Christmas Waltz” episode of Mad Men, first broadcast on May 20, 2012.The exterior of the 2nd Ave. Ratner’s is briefly visible in an episode of the “Naked City” TV show entitled “The Face Of The Enemy”. The episode was set in 1961.
Stop 100: Streits Matzo Factory
150 Rivington Street, corner of Suffolk
The matzo factory in Manhattan
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Aron Streit, Inc. (sold under the name Streit’s) is a kosher food company based in New York City, best known for its product, Streit’sMatzo. It is the only family-owned and operated matzo company in the United States and distributes matzo in select international markets. It holds about 40 percent of the United States matzo market with its major competitor, New Jersey based Manischewitz.
The company was founded in 1916 by Aron Streit, a Jewish immigrant from Austria. Its first factory was on Pitt Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There, Streit and his business associate Rabbi Weinberger made each piece of matzo by hand. In 1925, with the growing number of Jewish immigrants congregating in the Lower East Side, Streit, along with his two sons, moved his business to nearby Rivington Street. Soon thereafter they bought the adjacent buildings, where the company still operates today.
Since the start of the franchise, Streit’s has prided itself on traditional values and customs. A big advertising claim that they have is “while others have sold out to large corporations, we at Streit’s continue our family tradition of bringing you the best matzo and kosher food products for Passover and year round.”
Streit’s 47,000-square-foot (4,400 m2) matzo factory, along with Katz’s Delicatessen and Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery, is a surviving piece of the Lower East Side’s Jewish heritage. At the turn of the 20th century Jews, along with other European Immigrants, were crammed into the many unsanitary tenements of the Lower East Side. In 1915 they made up 60 percent of the Lower East Side population. Because of the large Jewish presence, Jewish centric businesses like Streit’s opened and flourished. However, because of the poor living conditions, as soon as they financially could, many Jewish families moved out of the tenements to new areas of industry in New York City, namely uptown and Brooklyn, slowly making Streit’s a relic of the past.
Since the 1980s the Lower East Side has experienced hyper gentrification. The neighborhood is now a burgeoning area for glass luxury high rise buildings such as the Blue Condo and the Hotel on Rivington – a stark contrast to Streit’s modest brick factory. Despite the changing neighborhood, the factory still tries to integrate itself with the community. It is known to give out fresh pieces of matzo to passing pedestrians and its adjacent shop at one point even served as a community art gallery. The Streit family even considered at one point to open a café or bar that serves matzo, to go with the Lower East Side’s new nightlife scene.
Streit’s matzo factory usually bakes about 16,000 pounds of matzo each day. In preparation for Passover the factory runs 20 hours a day, testing its 30,000 pounds per day capacity.The factory follows strict kosher laws. Only Shomer Shabbat (Sabbath-observing) Jews are allowed to touch the dough. However, once the dough is baked, people of any religion are allowed to touch the matzo. The entire process of making the matzo is under Rabbinic supervision. In particular, they time the matzo making process, checking to see it does not exceed eighteen minutes. Otherwise, the batch would be considered not kosher for Passover and discarded.
Stop 101: Congregation Chasam Sopher
8 Clinton Street
Second oldest synagogue structure in NYC
Thanks to President Eugene Weiser for showing me around the synagogue.
Congregation Chasam Sopher
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Congregation Chasam Sopher is an Orthodox synagogue located at 10 Clinton Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
It was formed in 1892 by the merger of two congregations of immigrants from Poland. It occupies an historic Romanesque Revival synagogue building built in 1853 by Congregation Rodeph Sholom. It is among the oldest synagogue buildings still standing in the United States, the second-oldest synagogue building in New York, and the oldest still in use in the state.
Renovation of the upstairs, completed in 2006, included conservation of the Torah ark, the installation of new stained-glass windows, and stripping the interior of paint to expose the original wood. The outside was also landscaped, creating a garden for the neighborhood.
The synagogue is “[p]ractically next door” to the Clinton St. Baking Company & Restaurant.
As of 2011, the rabbi was Azriel Siff.
Dorothy Strelsin Memorial Garden
174 Suffolk Street
Stop 102: Oldest Synagogue Building
172 Norfolk Street
Congregation Ansche Chesed was organised in 1828 by German Jews, built in 1849 in the lavish Gothic Revival style
Angel Orensanz Center
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|The Angel Orensanz Center;
the Shul of New York
||172 Norfolk Street (betweenStanton Street and EastHouston Street on the Lower East Side), New York, NY10002
||Designated an historic landmark by New York City in 1987
- Al Orensanz (Director of the Foundation)
- Rabbi Burt Siegal (leader/founder of the Shul of New York)
||The tripartite front facade is brick, covered with stucco.
The Angel Orensanz Center (originally Anshe Chesed Synagogue; also formerly known as the Norfolk Street Congregation and Anshe Slonim Synagogue) is located at 172 Norfolk Street (between Stanton Street and East Houston Street) in the Lower East Side ofManhattan, New York. It is housed in a Gothic Revival synagogue, built in 1849 for Congregation Ansche Chesed (People of Kindness).
It is the oldest surviving synagogue building in New York City, and the fourth-oldest surviving synagogue building in the United States. It was the largest synagogue in the United States at the time of its construction, and is one of the few built in Gothic Revival style.
The synagogue was built by Reform Congregation Ansche Chesed (People of Kindness), a congregation of primarily German Jews that was the third Jewish congregation in New York City. The building was designed by Eisenach/Germany-born architect Alexander Saeltzer. It was sold to Congregation Shaari Rachmim (Gates of Mercy) in 1873, to The First Hungarian Congregation Ohab Zedek (To Love Righteousness) in 1886, and to congregation Sheveth Achim Anshe Slonim in 1921, which used it until 1974. That year, the synagogue was abandoned, and it was later vandalized.
Spanish sculptor and painter Angel Orensanz purchased the property in 1986. He restored it, and converted it into an art gallery and performance space known as the Angel Orensanz Foundation Center for the Arts. The building was designated a historic landmark by New York City the following year. It has subsequently become home to the Shul of New York, a liberal Reform synagogue.
The synagogue was built by Congregation Ansche Chesed (People of Kindness). Formed in 1825, Congregation Ansche Chesed consisted primarily of German Jews, as well as Dutch Jews and Polish Jews. They were mostly recent immigrants. It was the third Jewish congregation in New York City, after Shearith Israel (1655; from which the members of Congregation Ansche Chesed broke away) and B’nai Jeshurun (1825).
Congregation Achsche Chesed purchased the three lots upon which the synagogue was built, at 172 Norfolk Street (between Stanton Street and East Houston Street), on the Lower East Side of New York City, New York, in April 1849, for $10,500 (today $298,000). The lots had originally been part of Peter Stuyvesant‘s estate.
The synagogue building was designed by Eisenach-born architect Alexander Saeltzer, who was engaged in February 1849. Saeltzer also later designed the original Astor Library (now The Public Theater) in 1851, and the Academy of Music on Astor Place in 1854. The synagogue’s Gothic Revival style was inspired by the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, and Friedrichwerdesche Kirche in Berlin. According to a 1987 report by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, while Gothic architecture is closely associated with Christianity, it had also become popular with synagogues as Jewish congregations had taken over old church buildings and become accustomed to the style, and viewed it as just as appropriate as any other architectural style.
The building opened in 1849 as Anshe Chesed Synagogue, and was also known as the Norfolk Street Congregation. The synagogue was formally opened and consecrated on May 16, 1850, with New York City’s mayor and a number of members of the New York City Common Council and Christian clergy among the invited guests. It was the largest synagogue in the United States, and could hold up to 1,500 worshipers (with men on the main floor, and women in the gallery). It was the first German-Jewish synagogue in New York, and the second Reform synagogue after Congregation Emanu-El (1845).
Its members were traditional in their beliefs, and the congregation was “moderately traditionalist.” Services were conducted primarily in German. It diverged from Orthodoxtradition in that its hazzan and the pulpit faced the congregation (rather than being located in the center of the congregation), and the services were accompanied by musical instruments, including an organ that was added in 1869 at the same time as family pews were introduced, with men and women sitting together. A choir of men and women was also introduced. In the 1850s, it had the largest membership of any synagogue in the United States. Munich-born Dr. Max Lilienthal was the first rabbi at the new synagogue. Dr. Jonah Bondy became the synagogue’s rabbi in 1858.
In 1874, Congregation Ansche Chesed merged with Congregation Adas Jeshurun and re-located uptown to Lexington Avenue and East 63rd Street, and formed Congregation Beth El. That congregation subsequently merged into Congregation Emanu-El, in 1927. The synagogue was later used by Eastern European Orthodox Jewish congregations, which in keeping with Orthodox practice removed the organ, turned the pulpit so that it faced East, and conducted the services in Hebrew. It was first sold to Congregation Shaari Rachmim (Gates of Mercy) in 1873, which used it until 1886. Then, as Shaari Rachim moved to New York City’s Upper West Side, the synagogue was sold to The First HungarianCongregation Ohab Zedek (To Love Righteousness) in 1886, which used it as its home until 1921. A congregation named Sheveth Achim Anshe Slonim (People of Slonim, Belarus; founded in 1888), worshiped there from 1921 until 1974, and called it Anshe Slonim Synagogue. By 1974, membership in the synagogue had dwindled as the neighborhood changed and the Slonim community had dispersed. The synagogue was abandoned, and was being vandalized.
Jewish Spanish sculptor and painter Angel Orensanz purchased the property in 1986. He restored it, and converted it into an art gallery and performance space, the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts. The building was designated an historic landmark by New York City in 1987.
The Shul of New York, a liberal Reform synagogue organized in 1997 that is led by Rabbi Burt Siegel and whose services are accompanied by the Shul Band, originally held its Sabbath services at the synagogue, and now holds its Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services there. It is the oldest standing synagogue in New York City.
Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick were married there, in 1997. Mandy Patinkin‘s Mamaloshen was also performed there, and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, poetMaya Angelou, playwright Arthur Miller, actress Tyne Daly, composer Philip Glass, and singers Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey have performed there. It was also the venue for the live recording of MTV Unplugged: A Live Album by singer Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine. Taking Back Sunday‘s live acoustic album ‘Live From Orensanz’ was also recorded here.
Interior of the Angel Orensanz Center
The building’s interior resembles that of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris. The sanctuary was designed to resemble the Sistine Chapel.
The building is 70 feet (21 m) wide, and 90 feet (27 m) deep. It has a main space of 7,000 square feet (and an assembly room of 4,000 square feet), and 50-foot (15 m) high cathedral blue ceilings. It has pointed arch tall lancet windows (originally surrounded by trefoiltracery and moldings) and doorways (surrounded by parts of moldings showing engaged columns and foliate capitals). Its larger center door is crowned by triangular molding that is almost as high as the second floor, which contains a Magen David with thin pinnacles on either side. It also has interior wooden vaults, and several tiers of balconies (one of the top ones of which contains a permanent studio of Angel Orensanz). It has a tripartite front facade of red stone brick, covered with stucco, framed at its top by a pointed gable. Originally, the building was three stories high and topped by concave pyramidal roofs with finials atop them, but today it is two stories high and topped by buttressed, clearly differentiated side square towers on either side of the center section. The towers were an unusual feature at the time they were built, containing articulated stairwells to the galleries. Its original ceiling was deep blue, with gold stars.