Israeli Consulate members tour Jewish L.E.S.

Standing before the ark inside the historic Byalistoker Synagogue, from left, Israel Nitzan, Karen Blatt, Moti Amichai Bibas and Andrew Gross.

BY LESLEY SUSSMAN | In a guided tour of the “Jewish Lower East Side” filled with memories of things past, members of New York City’s Israeli Consulate visited several sites popular with the neighborhood’s longtime Jewish population, several of them bringing to mind the days of  the huge Jewish immigration to New York City from the turn of the century through the 1930s.

The Thursday afternoon tour was organized by Karen Blatt, an urban planner and former district Leader, under the auspices of the nonprofit Jewish Conservancy of the Lower East Side.

Consulate members who attended the tour included Israel Nitzan, the deputy consul general; Moti Amichai Bibas, the consul for cultural affairs; and Andrew Gross, political director.

Among the sites visited was the Bialystoker Synagogue, at 7 Willet St., an Orthodox synagogue housed there since 1905 in a building constructed as a Methodist Episcopal church in 1826.

Also visited was the 167-year-old Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue on Norfolk St., which in 2016 was nearly totally destroyed by flames believed to be set by arsonists. Another stop was the Henry Street Settlement, at 263-267 Henry St., which was founded in 1893 as The Nurses Settlement by progressive reformer and nurse Lillian Wald. The settlement house provided health and other services to the neighborhood’s poor, immigrant Jews.

Consulate members also stopped by the Forward Building, at 173 E. Broadway, which was built in 1912 and for many years was the home of the city’s first Jewish language newspaper, and Moishe’s bakery, at 504 Grand St., where they sampled kosher pastries, cookies and cakes. Another stop was the East Side Glatt Butcher Shop, at 500 Grand St., a small longtime local kosher deli and butcher shop.

“I’m excited about the tour because this is where everything began for Jewish New York,” Blatt said. “It’s the roots of New York City Jewry.”

Nitzan said, “It was a pleasure to tour various Jewish historical sites in a neighborhood that has been a cradle of Jewish life in America.”

Rabbi Zvi Romm of Bialystoker Synagogue met up with the tour outside the ruins of Beth Hamedrash Hagodol.

“It is a sad sight to see such a historic synagogue in ruins,” he said. “But the ruins of that shul are only a part of the story of the Lower East Side. Our collective story is deeply rooted in the past. But it is also a story of a vibrant Jewish community which is active right now, with synagogues, schools, a mikveh and kosher establishments.”

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