In the New Hebrew Quarter of Harlem 1904 Part I

Residents Live Under Different Conditions from Those That Prevail in the East Side Ghetto.

To those who are accustomed to regard the East Side as the centre of the Hebrew population of greater New York it will be something of a surprise to learn that there already exists in Harlem a colony of nearly a hundred thousand Hebrews, and that the migration of the thousands to this new quarter is one of the steadiest as well as the most hopeful signs of the Ghetto. The old Ghetto, the region of congested tenements, Old World customs and foreign languages, the first resting place of the immigrants, with its pushcarts, its synagogues, its thousand and one strange sights, has been the topic of endless description. But the new colony, the mark of the second generation, has so completely veiled itself with American customs and clothing as to escape much notice. It lies, roughly speaking, between One-hundred-and-tenth and One-hundred-and-twentieth streets. and Lenox and Park avenues.

It is not more than twenty-five years since the first wave of Jewish immigration started toward America; since then hundreds of thousands of Jews, from Rumania, from Russia and from Galicia, have followed, and are still coming. But the twenty years have not been years of inactivity. The first generation that came settled down to the economic struggle that confronted them; they lived, and many of them died, in the old Ghetto, while for the living America is a few blocks about Chrystie, Forsyth and Allen streets, with a centre on East Broadway. Within these limits they lived the life of Europe, their papers were Yiddish, their knowledge of English was limited, they were too old in the European to grasp the American habits.

But five years ago the close watchers of East Side conditions began to feel a new element in the Ghetto, a new vitality; suddenly they realized that a generation was rising that was not Jewish; it was American. The old race customs were breaking down before the test of American education; the public schools were making not educated Hebrews, but educated Americans. It was precisely at this point also that they began to observe the first signs of that migration.

Not long ago a former resident of the University Settlement, situated in the heart of the Ghetto and given up exclusively to work among the Jewish inhabitants of the district, made a brief visit to his former residence. To his surprise, he found that all the old friends who had shared in the social life of the Settlement were gone. To his query concerning one after another the same answer was given, "Gone to Harlem."

What happened was this: The new generation, educated in American schools, perceiving that their own conditions in the congestion of the Ghetto caused by the tenement life were far away from the modern American notion of "sweetness and light," with almost their earliest conscious resolve determined to escape the Ghetto. The first generation lived together for mutual protection, the second saw in the segregation of the race many undesirable conditions. Then some more adventurous, having realized their first success, having by dint of long hours of study and work earned an income to match their ambitio0n, turned their backs upon the old and set out on a new migration, a migration yet nearer to America. For, as an East Sider has phrased it:

"The Jewish people did not come first to America, but to a sort of purgatory in the Ghetto; later will they come to America."

In this new world of Harlem they found flats to replace tenements. With their first hard earned money they furnished their rooms, not as necessity forced them in the narrow rooms of the tenement, but with the ampler scope of newer apartments. They lavished their money and indulged their newly acquired American tastes. Privacy, home life and individual existence became possible. Then they laid aside much of the old or, indeed, in them many of the old customs died, though some survived. For instance, their parents had traded with push-carts, driven by narrow means, and in this new Ghetto the pushcart still thrives. From a distinct element in the community they became swallowed up in the city. One may walk through the Hebrew colony in Harlem with only a suspicion of the fact of the Ghetto, but go back to the region of the former home of its residents, and when one crosses the Bowery he is in Europe.

Then came a new characteristic. The little home, won by the young people, gave a distinct quality to their nature. The desire to adorn their houses, to attain personal neatness, frequently impossible in the bathless wilds of the East Side; a certain self-reliance, the result of initiative, was acquired. The Hebrews of the East Side are Russian or Rumanian, the Hebrews of Harlem are American. In the Ghetto they rarely asked their Christian friends to visit them. A resident of the University Settlement tells of two years of life in that quarter without a single visit to the homes of the people, but of many to the homes of their friends in Harlem.

One interesting feature of the migration was the reluctance of the old people to move. In many instances they refused absolutely; the old agonies of their life had by association grown too dear to part with. Here was another element. The younger generation in most cases left the old behind; it ceased to have any close connection with the traditions of the Ghetto. American customs, institutions and mode of life surrounded them, and the Harlem Hebrews became day by day more American, while the old people, left in the Ghetto, clung more closely to the dying traditions. The Yiddish language was lost by many, abandoned by more, and one will find many in the uptown Ghetto who are entirely ignorant of the language of their fathers and their race.

Continue Part II


Website: The History
Article Name: In the New Hebrew Quarter of Harlem 1904 Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The New York Tribune January 17, 1904 Pages:5-7
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