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Harlem is dwelling to an vital a part of Jewish historical past in New York

NEW YORK (RNS) — On a Tuesday morning in early November, 16 adults and a child in a stroller huddled in a gaggle close to the statue of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in Harlem. Regardless of the nippiness within the air, all eyes had been intent on Barry Judelman as he delivered a quick historical past of the neighborhood’s Jewish group.

The group, gathered that day for the Jewish Harlem Strolling Tour, was largely older and Jewish. That is typically true of the members within the varied Jewish historical past excursions he leads round New York Metropolis, Judelman mentioned. “That’s one of many unhappy issues about it.”

Based on Judelman, as a rule, folks considering such excursions have a household connection to the Decrease East Aspect or components of Brooklyn, the place there may be nonetheless a big Orthodox Jewish inhabitants. Youthful Jews, he mentioned, usually don’t have “the background curiosity and extra importantly, data of the truth that they stay in what was this huge Jewish group. Certainly, the beginnings of the American Jews.”

Rising up in South Africa, Judelman was at all times considering Jewish historical past. His curiosity in his heritage took him to Israel after which later to the U.S. to review the historical past of Jewish People. He has been tracing that historical past in New York for the previous two years and has been sharing his data via excursions throughout the town, in collaboration with the Decrease East Aspect Jewish Conservancy.

“I feel educating and imparting in an thrilling, revolutionary and inventive method — not the old style, boring method — is so vital proper now, greater than ever,” mentioned Judelman.

The previous Temple Israel is now Mount Olivet Baptist Church, seen on Nov. 2, 2021, throughout a strolling tour in Harlem. RNS photograph by Nidhi Upadhyaya

Stretching north of Central Park, Harlem is most well-known as a historic Black neighborhood, nevertheless it additionally as soon as housed the second largest inhabitants of Jews in America — about 175,000. The motion of Jews from the Decrease East Aspect of the town north to Harlem started within the 1870s and have become extra established within the early 1900s, after the introduction of the subway system in Manhattan.

Starting their tour at what was as soon as Blumstein’s, a division retailer owned by German Jewish immigrant Louis Blumstein, the group adopted Judelman eastward, to take a look at previous worship facilities and brownstones as soon as inhabited by well-known Jewish celebrities comparable to Richard Rodgers, Harry Houdini and Gertrude Berg.

One can simply think about the scale of the Jewish group within the space primarily based on the variety of synagogues that existed — Temple Israel, Commandment Keepers, Shaare Zedek, Ohab Zedek, Institutional Synagogue and the Ansche Chesed. All of those have now been transformed to church buildings, an affidavit to the drastic change within the demographic of the locality’s residents.

All through the stroll, members of the group chimed in with their very own experiences and the historic synagogues they’ve seen. At one level when standing exterior the Bethel Manner of the Cross Church of Christ, previously the Shaare Zedek Synagogue, a dialogue started on how one ought to renovate synagogues. Some missed the allure of conventional worship areas whereas a majority agreed they aren’t as purposeful and are very tough to keep up.

The tour ended exterior Harlem Hebrew Language Academy, the place everybody dispersed to seize lunch or a freshly made rugelach, a stuffed pastry, from a bakery close by.

Barry Judelman. Photo by Jan E. Prokop

Barry Judelman. Photograph by Jan E. Prokop

After the tour, Judelman famous what he sees as main elements impacting the Jewish group within the nation.

“The nice menace to Jews feeling a lot at dwelling in America is that they may shortly develop into assimilated,” he mentioned. “Many Jews not solely have married out of the religion however have mainly misplaced the religion. You already know, they simply don’t apply and so they don’t establish.”

And with antisemitism on the rise, he mentioned, there may be rising discomfort throughout the group. Even in New York, he mentioned, there’s been “an enormous wake-up name.”

“Individuals at all times thought New York is proof against all of that due to the scale of the group,” mentioned Judelman. “However I feel all these illusions are actually lengthy gone.”

“The protection and luxury stage Jews have felt in America, the bottom is starting to shift and shake just a little bit,” he added.

That is the rationale why he continues to indicate up, even on a chilly and grey day, to escort his tour teams across the metropolis.

“I feel finally, American Jewish identification may be very a lot strengthened by folks having a historic perspective.”

The former Synagogue for the Commandment Keepers Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation of the Living God Pillar & Ground of Truth, Inc. in Harlem, New York, on Nov. 2, 2021. The property is now owned by English poet James Fenton and his partner Darryl Pinckney. It is being renovated for them. RNS photo by Nidhi Upadhyaya

The previous Synagogue for the Commandment Keepers Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation of the Residing God Pillar & Floor of Fact, Inc. in Harlem, New York, on Nov. 2, 2021. The property is now owned by English poet James Fenton and his associate Darryl Pinckney. It’s being renovated for them. RNS photograph by Nidhi Upadhyaya

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