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A Jewish Tour of New York's Lower East Side


Russ & Daughters
179 E. Houston St., nr. Allen St.; 212-475-4880; russanddaughters.com
Dried fruits and nuts, chocolates, and cheeses line the shelves of the pristine specialty food shop Russ & Daughters, run by the Russes since 1914. Historic photographs above the counters suggest little inside the shop has changed. Fish is still the biggest draw—from the classic bagel and lox to nova, homemade pickled herring, and Caspian Sea caviar.

Angel Orensanz Foundation
72 Norfolk St., nr. Stanton St.; 212-529-7194; orensanz.org
The oldest synagogue building in the city had been shut down and systematically vandalized for over a decade when Spanish sculptor Angel Orensanz swooped in, purchasing the property in 1986 and converting it into an art studio. Now known as the Angel Orensanz Foundation, the synagogue was designed by Berlin-born architect Alexander Saelzer and intended to resemble Cologne Cathedral. The 54-foot-ceilinged structure could hold up to 1,500 worshippers and was the largest synagogue in the nation upon its 1849 opening. The Foundation continues to host shabbas services twice a month—in addition to its vast cultural programs—and is a popular spot for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Streit’s Matzo Company
148-150 Rivington St., nr. Suffolk St.; 212-475-7000; streitsmatzos.com
Family-owned and operated for five generations, Streit’s Matzo Company is the last neighborhood matzo factory left. Step inside their kosher shop and peer through windows into the oven-filled space where all the matzos are made—lightly salted, egg and onion, whole wheat, and more. Ask around and chances are a family member will give you the tour.

Essex Street Market
120 Essex St., nr. Rivington St.; 212-388-0449; essexstreetmarket.com
Hoping to rid the streets of pushcart peddlers, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia set up this indoor market in 1939. Inside, Batista Grocery, Luis’s Meat Market, and many of today’s food, tchotchke, and clothing stands cater to Latino tastes. Exceptions include Schapiro’s Wines, an L.E.S. fixture since 1899 that sells kosher wines on weekdays, and a handful of gourmet purveyors like Saxelby Cheesemongers and Pain d'Avignon bakery.

Bialystoker Synagogue
7-11 Willett St., nr. Grand St.; 212-475-0165; bialystoker.org
Built in 1826, the Federal-style building originally housed a Methodist church and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. A door along the balcony exposes a roughly 200-year-old ladder leading to an attic where Canada-bound slaves hid during the Civil War. In 1905, a congregation of Polish Jews from Bialystok converted the building into a synagogue, transporting a stunning, three-story ark from Italy. Paintings of zodiac symbols corresponding to Jewish calendar months span the sanctuary ceiling. Bialystoker offers frequent services to its 500-member congregation.

Beth Hamedrash Hagadol
60 Norfolk St., nr. Broome St.; 212-374-4100
Home of America’s oldest Orthodox Jewish Russian congregation, the synagogue remains a center of religious study and interpretation of Jewish law. Today, the Lower East Side and New York City preservation communities are working to restore the building to its original splendor.

East Broadway Landmarks
Take a detour along a quiet stretch of East Broadway, home to a handful of turn-of-the-century Jewish landmarks as well as a small, active Orthodox community. The imposing Forward Building (175 E. Broadway, at Canal St.) was once the headquarters of the Jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish-language paper that promoted social reform while striving to expose its readers to American culture and customs. Down the block lies the Educational Alliance (197 E. Broadway, nr. Clinton St.; 212-780-2300; edalliance.org), a community center established in 1889 to provide immigrants with language and art classes, a free library, and help “Americanizing.” Keep heading north and you’ll hit Shteibl Row (E. Broadway, between Clinton and Montgomery Sts.), a series of former tenements converted into shuls where worshippers still gather. The nearby Henry Street Settlement (265 Henry St., nr. Montgomery St.; 212-766-9200; henrystreet.org), founded by social worker Lillian Wald in 1893, offers numerous educational and social services, while also contributing to the work of the Abrons Arts Center, a collection of theaters, art studios, and dance spaces found across the street.


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