This memorial plaque honoring Emma Lazarus, American Jewish poetess, is located in The Battery's famous monument walk in Manhattan. The plaque itself is made from Israeli limestone and bronze gifted from the State of Israel to the Sisterhood of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogues. Born on July 22, 1849 in New York City to a wealthy sugar refining family of Portuguese Sephardic Jewish descent whose roots extended to the very early days of New York City as a British colonial city, Emma Lazarus was the poet who wrote "The New Colossus" Aside from writing, Lazarus was also involved in charitable work for refugees. At Ward's Island, she worked as an aide for Jewish immigrants who had been detained by Castle Garden immigration officials. She was deeply moved by the plight of the Russian Jews she met there and these experiences influenced her writing. In 1883, William Maxwell Evarts and author Constance Cary Harrison asked Lazarus to compose a sonnet for the "Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty". In turn, Lazarus, inspired by her own Sephardic Jewish heritage, her experiences working with refugees on Ward's Island, and the plight of the immigrant, wrote "The New Colossus" on November 2, 1883. After the auction, the sonnet appeared in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World as well as The New York Times. She died in New York City on November 19, 1887, most likely from Hodgkin's lymphoma. Lazarus' famous sonnet depicts the Statue as the "Mother of Exiles:" a symbol of immigration and opportunity - symbols associated with the Statue of Liberty today. After its initial popularity however, the sonnet slowly faded from public memory. It was not until 1901, 17 years after Lazarus's death, that Georgina Schuyler, a friend of hers, found a book containing the sonnet in a bookshop and organized a civic effort to resurrect the lost work. Her efforts paid off and in 1903, words from the sonnet were inscribed on a plaque and placed on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
The Brown Building, formerly known as the Asch Building, was the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911. One hundred and forty-six Jewish and Italian immigrant workers died in the blaze. It was the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history. In its aftermath, outraged advocates demanded stronger workplace safety protections and better working conditions for those who toiled in the city’s sweatshops. The Brown Building occupies 23-29 Washington Place in Greenwich Village New York City. It was completed in 1901 and is an example of the neo-Renaissance architectural style. It features a stone base and brick upper walls with terra-cotta trim. Five limestone pilasters decorate the front façade and are topped with terra-cotta capitals. Originally the building housed retail shops on the ground level and factory space on levels 2-10. After the 1911 fire, the building was refurbished and sold to Frederick Brown, who rented it to nearby New York University. In 1929 Brown donated it to NYU and it was renamed in his honor. The Brown Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark on July 17, 1991. On March 25, 2003, it was named a New York City Landmark. As of 2020, it hosts classrooms and science labs. Memorial plaques commemorate the victims. Each March on the fire’s anniversary, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition organizes a memorial gathering. As of 2020, the Coalition is in the process of developing a permanent memorial to the fire’s victims.
Shearith Israel was the only Jewish congregation in New York City from 1654 until 1825. During this entire span of history, all of the Jews of New York belonged to the congregation. Shearith Israel was founded by 23 Jews, mostly of Spanish and Portuguese origin. The earliest Jewish cemetery in the U.S. was recorded in 1656 in New Amsterdam where authorities granted the Shearith Israel Congregation “a little hook of land situated outside of this city for a burial place.” Its exact location is now unknown. The Congregation’s “second” cemetery, which is today known as the FIRST cemetery because it is the oldest surviving one, was purchased in 1683. Today, this cemetery is a mere fragment of its original extent. Only about a hundred headstones and above ground tombs can still be seen in what remains of the old burial ground, which rises slightly above street level. It is the only remaining 17th century structure in Manhattan. The second cemetery - now known as "New Bowery Cemetery". Burials began here in 1805, in what was a much larger, square plot extending into what is now the street. The Commissioners' Plan had established the city's grid in 1811, but not until 1830 was West 11th Street cut through, at that time reducing the cemetery to its present tiny triangle. The disturbed plots were moved further uptown to the Third Cemetery on West 21st Street. In 1852 city law forbade burial within Manhattan, and subsequent interments have been made in Queens. The third cemetery is between loft buildings and across the street from the School Of Visual Arts on West 21st St just off 6th Avenue is the Third Cemetery. This cemetery was adjacent to the congregation's synagogue on 19th Street--built in 1860 and now long gone.
Congregation Ohab Zedek, or OZ, as it is fondly known, is more than just a synagogue. Under the leadership of Rabbi Allen Schwartz, the Shul is known for its open doors and big heart. OZ has broad ties with the surrounding Jewish community and its Upper West Side neighborhood as a whole. A random visitor could easily encounter an up and coming scholar from Israel, or members of the local fire station. It is an informal, comfortable, inclusive community. OZ is a modern Orthodox congregation, but any individual is welcome, regardless of background or means. It is a Shul of interlocking communities--young families who find a relaxed setting on Shabbos morning to introduce their toddlers to services; singles, who famously crowd the steps on Friday night; and seniors, many of whom have been members of OZ for decades. It is home to those tentatively exploring Judaism as well as the most learned, who are stimulated by a broad array of lecturers and classes.
The Congregation Shearith Israel – often called The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue – is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. It was established in 1654 in New Amsterdam by Jews who arrived from Dutch Brazil. Until 1825, when Jewish immigrants from Germany established a congregation, it was the only Jewish congregation in New York City. The Orthodox synagogue, which follows the Sephardic liturgy, is located on Central Park West at 70th Street, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The congregation has occupied its current Neoclassical building since 1897. The first group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews were twenty-three refugees from Dutch Brazil, who arrived in New Amsterdam in September 1654. After being initially rebuffed by anti-Semitic Director of New Netherland Peter Stuyvesant, Jews were given official permission to settle in the colony in 1655. This year marks the founding of the Congregation Shearith Israel. Although they were allowed to stay in New Amsterdam, they faced discrimination and were not given permission to worship in a public synagogue for some time (throughout the Dutch period and into the British). The Congregation did, however, make arrangements for a cemetery beginning in 1656. It was not until 1730 that the Congregation was able to build a synagogue of its own; it was built on Mill Street (now William Street) in lower Manhattan. The Mill Street synagogue was said to have had access to a nearby spring which it used as a mikveh for ritual baths. Before 1730, as noted on a 1695 map of New York, the congregation worshipped in rented quarters on Beaver Street and subsequently on Mill Street. Since 1730 the Congregation has worshipped in five synagogue buildings; the current building was extensively refurbished in 1921. As the American Reform Judaism made headway in the late 19th century, many rabbis critical of the Reform movement looked for ways to strengthen traditional synagogues. Shearith Israel, and its rabbi, Henry Pereira Mendes, were at the fore of these efforts. Rabbi Mendes cofounded the American Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in 1886, in order to train traditional rabbis. The school held its first classes at Shearith Israel. In JTS' earliest days, it taught and researched rabbinics similarly as was done in traditional yeshivas, in contrast to the Reform Hebrew Union College. Twelve years later, in 1896, Mendes was acting president of JTS. He promoted the formation of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (commonly known as the OU, the Orthodox Union). This synagogue umbrella group provided an alternative to the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations. As JTS grew, it needed better financing and a full-time head. The seminary moved to its own building, and Mendes was replaced by Solomon Schechter. However, Schechter developed a less traditional approach, which became the basis for Conservative Judaism (called Masorti outside North America). Initially there was considerable cooperation between the Orthodox and Conservative groups but, over time, the divide became clearer. Schechter formed the United Synagogue of America (now the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, or USCJ) to promote synagogue affiliation with his conservative ideology. Shearith Israel remained aligned with the Orthodox tradition. It eventually repudiated its association with JTS. In a sense, Shearith Israel helped create three of the largest and most significant Jewish religious organizations in the United States: JTS, the OU, and USCJ. Shearith Israel remains a member only of the Orthodox Union.
At a time when issues surrounding migrants, refugees, and immigration have taken center stage, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is a potent reminder that, as a nation shaped by immigration, our brightest hope for the future lies in the lessons of the past. Our mission is to foster a society that embraces and values the role of immigration in the evolving American identity through guided tours; curriculum and programs for secondary and post-secondary educators; stories, primary sources and media shared on our website; and interactive online experiences such as Your Story, Our Story, podcasts and more.