Our Trip to the Lower East Side
Gillian Lynn Katz
On March 6th the Hebrew High School took a bus trip to the Lower East Side. This was enabled by a generous grant from an anonymous donor. It was a rainy day as we set off towards New York City. We took an unexpected detour through Chinatown and it was very interesting seeing that kind of lifestyle on a Sunday morning; it gave us a different view of American ethnic life.
Our first stop was at the oldest JCC in America. Bobby Kennedy frequented there, and we saw a brochure which had his picture and an article about his participation in the development of the JCC. We were informed that the now famous 92nd Street Y was originally built by German Jews. The JCC in the Lower East Side was built by Eastern European Jews. Many of the students on the trip were descendants of the original members of this JCC.
As we stood in the rain, our guide pointed towards Wall Street where there was a gaping distance in the clouds. He told us that before 9/11 there was a clear view of the Twin Towers from where we were standing.
On the corner of Broome and Allen Streets, we visited a small Greek Orthodox Shul, Kehila Kedosha Jainina which is the last Greek shul in the western hemisphere. It is the gathering place for the Romanoite Jews (Greek Jews) of the city nearly a century after its construction in 1927. It is a small building with a lower and upper floor, and they haven’t had a rabbi there in many decades, but still hold services, weddings and recently had a brit milah. They are proud of continuing the Greek tradition through several generations, in New York.
Upstairs was had a small museum that sold artifacts as well as books written by Jewish Greek Americans. We viewed wedding pictures from a century ago, clothing, jewelry and other artifacts that were brought over by the first Greek immigrants to America. On the side of the wall was a huge white covering and we didn’t know it was made of something like tin, because our guide leaned over and banged on it with his hands, which made quite a loud noise He said this is how the women upstairs get the attention of the men below.
Our last stop was at a Jewish diner where we bought large bialys and had refreshments. We saw a little old man sitting by himself and he couldn’t stop smiling. When he was asked why he was so happy, he said: “its good to see so many Jewish children in one place.”
It is great that Beth El provides interesting trips for the students to connect with Jewish culture in areas other than Westchester County. It is important to view our heritage from other perspectives. I look forward to the next adventure.