|Gurock, Jeffrey S. When Harlem Was Jewish, 1870–1930. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.|
World War I was the crucial point in the history of twentieth-century Harlem. Until the war, uptowndespite its densely populated tenement district and its less than elegant pre-1900 brownstone flatsremained an area attractive to those seeking to improve their living conditions. After the war, Harlem quickly became a neglected inner-city ghetto, housing only those who were, for whatever reason, incapable of fleeing to newly constructed outlying areas. The basic causes of this shift were the pronounced physical deterioration of Harlem under the impact of severe wartime overcrowding and war-time building restrictions that precluded builders from providing new housing for an expanding urban population and allowed landlords to exploit this temporary housing shortage.
Early in this century, Harlemand to a lesser extent Yorkville and the West Sidehad begun serving as population safety-valves from overcrowded downtown areas. Several years later, Brownsville and Williamsburg joined uptown in providing major residential alternatives for Manhattan's tenement dwellers. And before the war, New York, still attracting thousands of new settlers yearly, had maintained its residential equilibrium by limited construction in newer sections of Brooklyn and in Queens and the Bronx. The growth of these outer-borough areas was facilitated, as residential construction had been in earlier periods, by the extension of mass transit lines to previously inaccessible sections of Greater New York. By 1917, subway lines had brought most sections of the outlying boroughs within reasonable commutation time of Manhattan.
Photograph shows 105th Street between Madison and Park avenues in 1929, with traces of Jewish Harlem, including the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Harlem (left) and the synagogue called Beth Hamridash Hagadol of Harlem.
Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Most prewar observers of the New York real estate scene shared the expectation that the slow but on-going development of new neighborhoods would continue to offset at least partially any further large increment in population. Tenement House Department officials prophesized that New York's tenement population would continue to disperse itself until Manhattan ceased being the residential hub of an emerging multicentric metropolis.
The start of World War I put an abrupt end to this first generation of urban population relocation. Wartime governmental restrictions on all but essential construction brought tenement building almost to a standstill. New housing starts were also severely curtailed by what one governmental official described as "the exceedingly high price of materials, the delay in obtaining them" and the scarcity of skilled laborers. "Extremely abnormal conditions resulting from the great European conflict," he further observed, "rendered building almost prohibitive."
This photograph shows 141-145 East 103rd Street in 1931. The sign just below the top floor reads "Workers! Your newspaper is the Morgen Freiheit." The sign over the door reads "Harlem Jewish Children's School, International Worker's Order."
Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
The cessation of construction occurred at the very moment when the citydue to an unexpected mass influx of populationneeded more than ever a resurgence in new housing construction. The war industries established within the major urban centers were attracting hundreds of thousands of workers, many of them black, from the hinterlands of America, and New York received more than its share of the migrants. The city's population rose by more than 600,000 between 1915 and 1920. Overcrowded Manhattan, which since 1910 slowly had been losing population, quickly acquired an additional net population of 146,000. These new settlers, like millions before them, competed with the existing population for the limited housing available. The relatively few new apartments constructed before the war were quickly occupied. New York's prewar residential equilibrium was soon shattered and tenement and apartment house dwellers throughout the city were once again confronted with seriously overcrowded conditions.
The City's Tenement House Department, found, for example, that in 1917 apartments in "new-law" buildings were "unobtainable." "Rents in such buildings," it reported, "were rising an' families 'doubling up' (families formerly occupying separate apartments are now living together)." Other governmental agencies observed, two years later, that "over twenty thousands of the houses erected before the new law, which were not in use in 1916 were serving as dwellings in 1919. There are practically no unoccupied apartments that are fit for human habitation."
This home-front crisis was exacerbated by the attempt of New York landlords to capitalize on the increased demand for scarce housing. Armed with the knowledge that most tenants had little option but to pay whatever rents were demanded by them, landlords hiked prices to what a State Housing Commission described as "unreasonable and oppressive" levels. Having no need to do anything to attract tenants, landlords also permitted their tenement properties to deteriorate. Another state survey of postwar housing conditions determined that by 1919, "families were crowded together in dark, ill-smelling apartments, and were unable to find better quarters. In every block were found ill-kept apartments, in fact, certain of them were not kept at all. One tenant said that her shoes had been worn out looking for another apartment."
This study also noted that the housing shortage was causing problems for all classes of tenement dwellers, noting that the "raising of rents resulting from the shortage of houses has affected not only the poor, but a large part of the population even among the moderately well-to-do'." "New York's housing capacity," this study conclude, "is very elastic, but the time is near where there will actually be no more room even in the indecently rotten old-law homes."
Harlem was among the most affected sections of the city. Once a safety-valve for excess East Side population, Harlem now had to grapple with its own problems of overcrowding. Central Harlem, for example, experienced a net population increase of some 11,000 people between 1915 and 1920, constituting a percentage increase of more than 15 percent over the prewar period. Uptown housing did not keep pace with the rapid increase in population as only twenty-four more houses were available for residential use in 1920 than were ten years earlier. Harlem's most affluent district was confronted for the first time with a serious housing dilemma. Central Harlem also experienced the exploitation of money-hungry landlords. Charles Marks, attorney for several tenant groups, including the West Harlem Tenants Association, testified before a Gubernatorial Commission on Housing that in one building, twenty tenants were being forced to pay a "rental increase from $36-$55." "In this case," Marks reported, "no repairs of any kind or nature, have been made of any perceptible kind, excepting absolutely necessary sanitary repairs."
In East Harlem, the era of rent profiteering simply accelerated the deterioration of an already densely populated neighborhood. As early as 1913, the Charity Organization Society declared that the "problems of poverty, need and congestion" in East Harlem were comparable to those which were commonly associated only with the Lower East Side. "All tenements in the area," they reported, "are narrow and thickly populated with a poor class of people." Three years later, a study conducted by the Eastern Council of Reform Rabbis determined that "there are worse congested districts in the North East Side than the East Side; only the members of the Eastern Council do not see the evil that are right next door to them. Harlem notably, the West Side, Washington Heights and Brooklyn need very carefully looking after."
East Harlem was severely affected by the housing shortage and by landlord neglect during the war years. A postwar study of a typical East Harlem block revealed a great number of buildings of the old type that only demolition and reconstruction could make habitable. By that time, those Harlemites with the financial means to escape the overcrowding were well prepared to abandon the old neighborhood and were among those pressing for the revival of construction of suitable accommodations.
The fortunes of Harlemites and other oppressed city dwellers did not improve significantly, however, until February, 1921. The city's Board of Estimate then finally recognized the need to stimulate new home construction and relieve city-wide overcrowding. It passed a tax exemption ordinance highly favorable to builders, providing that "all new buildings planned for dwelling purposes" started or completed between April 1, 1920 and April 1, 1922 would be exempt from almost all tax levies until January 1932. The Board extended the deadline for new construction several times during the 1920s, providing builders with continued protection from taxation.
This bold municipal governmental move sparked a long-awaited resurgence in building projects contiguous to existing rapid transit lines. In the first nine months of 1921, local builders finally overcame their fear of high postwar labor costs and high bank interest rates, proceeding to build nearly ten thousand multiple dwellings and several thousand private homes both in Manhattan and the outlying boroughs.
The first spurt of construction set the building pattern for the rest of the decade. Brooklyn held the lead throughout the 1920s as the site of the most pronounced activity. Some 14,000 apartments were built in previously inaccessible Flatbush, Bay Ridge, and Bensonhurst. More than five thousand apartment houses were built in the Bronx, the majority concentrated along White Plains Road and the Grand Concourse. Long Island City, Astoria and Jackson Heights, similarly, became important new metropolitan neighborhoods as several thousand new homes were erected within close proximity of Queens's mass transit lines. Manhattan lagged considerably behind the other boroughs in the number of new housing starts but its relatively few new luxury apartment houses were as a rule far more expensive than those built elsewhere in the city. Riverside Drive, Washington Heights, Central Park West, and Park Avenue below 96th Street all emerged as new and elegant communities for many of New York's most affluent citizens.
The postwar building boom quickly attracted those eager and able to escape overcrowded conditions away from Harlem and the city's other immigrant and older residential areas to the new sections of town. It also helped set the present-day general demographic profile of the metropolis. Manhattan was established as the home of many of the city's most affluent as well as poorest inhabitants, while the other boroughs became, and remained until very recently, the centers for a variety of middle- and lower-income people.
Although severe overcrowding and the desire of many to avoid paying unfair rents for inferior services precipitated the migration out of Harlem and the other deteriorating metropolitan neighborhoods, it was the generally higher standard of living enjoyed by most workers in the post war period that enabled thousands of city dwellers to make the necessary move. "Labor was never as prosperous as it is today," declared one tenement house official in explaining this exodus from the city center, "and the American worker has always been desirous of bringing up his family in the best possible surroundings. He has tried to get away from the sordidness and the present prosperity has afforded him an opportunity of which he has taken full advantage." Other contemporaries observed that "since the war, wages have risen and hours have been shortened and the ordinary man expects better accommodations and more enjoyment for his family and himself. He is less easily reconciled to the tenement district and old apartment houses and more eager for what the suburbs offer him." Modern fireproof buildings such as those on the Grand Concourse attracted those able to pay higher rents and many middle- and working-class families responded to the call."
Economically prosperous families were, however, not the only ones to migrate from the inner city. Older sections of the Bronx, for example, offered new housing to former tenement dwellers at rents only slightly above those charged in Manhattan, and well below those prevailing on the Grand Concourse. The some 17,000 housing units built in the 1920s in the Morrisania and Hunts Point sections of the Bronx permitted many working-class families of more limited means to break the bonds of New York's older tenement districts. The deteriorating inner-city neighborhoods continued to house those incapable of escape and absorbed the newly arriving poor.
New York's immigrant Jewish citizens were among the most active participants in this second generation of intracity relocation. As was the case with the settlement of Harlem a generation earlier, both poor and affluent Jews took part in the intracity migration. The higher rents charged for better housing were no real barriers for the many newly affluent, and the more prosperous working-class families. The occupational distribution of immigrant Jews and their children, according to one early urban demographer, underwent a dramatic change during the years prior to the Great Depression. "There was an upward trend in the professions, trades and in the clerical occupations" held by Jews both in New York and elsewhere and a corresponding "downward trend in manufacturing and in the domestic and personal services." This basic pattern of immigrant upward mobility was due, reportedly, both to "the general development of the country and to the successful adjustment of a considerable number of our erstwhile immigrants to the socioeconomic environment of the United States." For prosperous Jews, who during this period also found money for luxury consumer goods and expensive leisure- and vacation-time activities, migration out of the inner city was primarily a question of finding suitable accommodations at a most reasonable price.
Certainly not every immigrant Jewish family shared equally in the decade's prosperity. Not all possessed the economic resources both to move to new better-built homes, while retaining sufficient funds to buy the cars and take the trips advertised in the Yiddish press. One poor young participant in the 1920s' out-of-ghetto movement recalled that his father arranged to borrow money from his boss on the installment plan to afford a new home in residential Brooklyn. Other families relied on pooled family incomes earned by three or more breadwinners to pay high apartment rents. Whatever the difficulties, escape from the tenements was given the highest priority by Jewish families of every economic class.
The major difference between this and earlier peak periods of dispersion out of the ghetto was that now few Jews were arriving from Europe to replaceor force outthose leaving the old immigrant centers. The start of the First World War had put a temporary halt to mass East European immigration, and the Federal Immigration Laws of 1921 and 1924 made the curtailment of Jewish immigration permanent. Thus, as the old neighborhoods continued to decline and those who had achieved even the most minimal level of economic advancement chose to leave for new areas, no new wave of Jewish immigrants took their place.
Each of the pre-World War I centers of New York Jewish life was consequently, strongly affected by the impact of this outer-borough migration during the postwar years. The Lower East Side, which once housed three-quarters of New York's immigrant Jews and which was, before the war, still home for one-quarter of the city's Jewish population, retained only 15 percent of the total in 1925. Over the next decade, the downtown area lost an additional 60 percent of its Jewish residents, reducing their number to 62,000. The early immigrant settlement of Williamsburg similarly lost close to one-quarter of its settlers between 1916 and 1925 as its population dropped from approximately 123,000 before the war to 105,000 ten years later. Brownsville, on the other hand, continued to enjoy a net population increase through 1925, but at a much slower rate than before. However, its era of ascendancy ended shortly thereafter and by 1930, only 170,000 Jews remained in the combined East Flatbush and Brownsville sections of Brooklyn.
The effects of postwar Jewish intracity migration were felt most acutely in Harlem. That community, which numbered approximately 178,000 at the height of the housing crisis, began to lose population as soon as suburban construction was resumed in 1921. By 1923, Harlem's Jewish population had dropped to an estimated 168,000 and Jewish communal observers were already talking of the decline of Jewish Harlem. The Jewish Welfare Board, for example, declared that "the outlook is for a steady reduction of Harlem's Jewish population due to the restrictions on immigration, the desire to better oneself socially as the economic status improves, the influx of Negroes [sic], Italians and Spanish-speaking groups." "The Jewish migration from Harlem," was noted, however as "only at the rate of 1.4 percent annually."
This report greatly underestimated the rate of out-migration, because by 1925only two years lateranother independent communal survey found that only 123,000 Jews remained in Harlem. The settlement had suffered a decline of more than 25 percent over the two years, not the 1.4 percent per annum predicted in 1923.
The steady stream of relocating Harlem Jews increased even more drastically in the second half of the decade. By 1927, Harlem Jewry numbered only 88,000; a percentage decline of over one-third since 1925. Three years later the Jewish evacuation of Harlem was almost complete. The highest contemporary estimate of Jewish population fixed the number at 25,000. A much later retrospective population study estimated the Jewish population in 1930 at 5,000. Although several thousand Jews continued to live there through succeeding decades and several hundreds still live there- today, Harlem's era as a landmark on the Jewish map of New York was over by 1930.
The exceedingly rapid Jewish exodus from Harlem was inaugurated by the same set of forces that would soon lead to the decline of the downtown ghetto and New York's other densely populated old Jewish neighborhoods. The departure was hastened by the postwar black "invasion" of uptown. Blacks were, of course, originally attracted to Harlem during the first decade of the twentieth century for many of the same reasons that motivated Jewish migration. The desire to improve their living conditions and the need to escape the overcrowded and vice-ridden "Tenderloin" district prompted many ambitious black families to seek accommodations in Harlem. Their fears of renewed violence against them by whites, on the scale of the famous Tenderloin Riots of 1900, increased their eagerness to migrate.
Unlike Jews and other immigrants whose choice of uptown accommodations was dictated, in almost all cases, by their ability to pay the higher uptown rents, blacks often found their way uptown blocked by neighborhood protective associations whose members believed that the black migration would automatically lower the value of their real estate holdings. One such organization, The West Side Improvement Association, which some blacks described as "composed in the main by Jews," tried to evict Negroes from the West 90th to 110th Street area. The rationale for such behavior was not "prejudice against the race," but fear that "their presence in a neighborhood would cause the value of property to deteriorate." Several Yiddish and Anglo-Jewish newspapers strongly condemned the action of these and other protective organizations. The American Hebrew, for example, decried the hypocrisy of those individuals who called upon blacks to improve themselves and then denied them a decent place to live. "How are they to become thrifty and independent and give their children the best education available," one editorialist asked, "if they are not allowed to acquire homes suitable for persons of refinement?"
The Yiddishes Tageblatt, sensing a certain communality of fates between Jews and the persecuted Negro, applauded the efforts of the Afro-American Realty Company which, in 1905 and later, bought up many unoccupied apartment houses and made them available to blacks. In supporting black self-help efforts, Tageblatt writers may well have recalled the problems experienced by some Jews in settling certain parts of uptown. The memory of Irish attacks against immigrants in the streets of East Harlem, which in 1900 prompted the newspaper to send what they described as a "bitter" protest letter to the local police captain, may have heightened their sensitivity to the present plight of their black neighbors. The newspaper's position on Jewish participation in the perpetration of physical atrocities against Negroes was even clearer. Race riots, in its opinion, were "a terrible pogrom against Negroes" and "a terrible sign for Jews. It shows that the New York people can manifest a great hate for a strange race. For the persecuted Jew to enhearten the persecutors of the Negro is indeed despicable."
Despite vocaland sometimes physicalopposition from various quarters, blacks succeeded by the end of the first decade of the twentieth century in securing a substantial foothold in the northern sections of Harlem. By 1910, blacks had established themselves as the predominant group north of 130th Street, west of Park Avenue. More than two-thirds of Harlem's approximately 22,000 Blacks resided in this section of uptown.
Harlem's blacks lived in housing far superior to anything enjoyed previously by their race in any metropolitan area, and paid dearly for the privilege. Most paid substantially higher rents than whites for their accommodations and many were forced to allocate up to one-third of their incomes to live in what one black contemporary described as "one of the choice sections of Harlem, conveniently and beautifully located, with broad asphalt avenues and streets, modern apartments and admirable transportation to the city."
Despite the high cost of living, which forced some settlers to take in lodgers to meet rent payments, Harlem remained, according to black leadership, "an ideal place to live for the aspiring black family willing to make sacrifices to reside in a good neighborhood. The uptown black enclave was also apparently a good place to live for the several thousand Jews who had made it their home by 1910. Jews were counted among the many white businessmen who reportedly resided in the black section "for the conveniences it affords them in conducting trade." Other white residents included those who continued to own and maintain the few private homes in the area and those who, reportedly, had "no aversion to Negroes."
Jews remained a recognizable minority within the black neighborhood throughout the next decade. In fact, Jews seemed to have shown a greater degree of persistence than other groups in an area which by 1920 had become overwhelmingly black. The total Jewish presence in northwest Harlem declined only slightly during the pre-war years and on some blocks the number of Jews actually rose. When Jews did decide to vacate this uptown area during the 1920s it was not specifically because of their having harbored any specific aversion towards living among blacks."
The massive influx of southern Blacks to the city during the era of the First World War destroyed Black Harlem's residential and racial balance. Entering the metropolitan area in search of work in northern industries, most of these migrants settled in Harlem's Black neighborhood. By 1920, 70 percent of Manhattan's 109,000 blacks resided between 118th and 144th streets between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. As rents soared during the wartime and postwar housing shortage, thousands of black migrants "doubled-up" and took in lodgers to meet high Harlem rents. Soon, however, the existing black area was unable to absorb any more new arrivals and as migration peaked during the 1920s, Harlem's black neighborhood began to expand.*
Accommodations in other parts of Central Harlem became readily available when widespread building resumed in 1921. As Jews and other white groups began to depart their deteriorating neighborhoods for newer and better sections of Manhattan and the outlying boroughs, their places were quickly taken by the ever-mounting volume of black migration. An additional 175,000 blacks, constituting a net population increase of 115 percent, entered New York City during the 1920s. Desirous of settling among their own kind and restricted economically and socially in their choice of neighborhood, most of these new settlers crowded into the rapidly deteriorating uptown district. There they joined thousands of Harlem's earlier black residents, who were also stopped by convention and covenant from seeking the frontiers of suburbia. By 1930, some 165,000 of New York's 328,000 blacks lived in Harlem.
This massive influx of new black settlers more than offset the number of whites leaving Harlem and afforded landlords the opportunity to continue to maintain the housing status quo. Harlem realtors of this era were not at all reluctant to open their doors to blacks. Blacks had always paid high rents for their accommodations and the now greatly increased demand for scarce housing free property owners from any real commitment to improving living conditions. Those landlords who were opposed to black tenancy also capitalized upon the situation. They were able to use the threat of a "black invasion" to extort higher rents from those remaining whites who were either unwilling or unable to leave Harlem, but who were desirous of continuing to reside in segregated surroundings.
This combination of a massive black incursion coupled with the steady deterioration of housing conditions and the continuing high rents charged for now inferior accommodations quickly convinced Central Harlem's remaining upwardly mobile Jews that uptown's "Jewish era" had come to an end. And as each Jewish family left the neighborhood, one or more black families replaced it, furthering the emerging predominance of blacks and promoting in turn the removal of additional Jewish families.
The black take-over of Central Harlem also fundamentally affected the direction of Jewish migration out of East Harlem. East Harlem had never really been a choice residential district attractive to the most upwardly mobile families. As had the ghetto, it had housed many of those awaiting the arrival of good times and the opportunity to settle in better neighborhoods. The wartime housing shortage simply exacerbated already depressed conditions and furthered the resolve of those wanting to escape the tenements.
Under normal circumstances, the resumption of building in 1921 and the early exodus of the most affluent Central Harlemites would have depressed the rentals in that district, enab1ing less-affluent East Harlemites to migrate to the "better" neighborhood, west of Fifth Avenue. Central Harlem realtors would also have had to improve conditions in their houses if they hoped to attract new tenants from the neighboring area. The curtailment of European immigration coupled with the expansion of suburban housing facilities would have reduced the demand for tenement housing, producing a new "buyers market" in Harlem real estate. The black incursion uptown eliminated all these possibilities. Landlords never had to lower rents or improve conditions to attract or hold black tenants. Out-migrating East Harlemites quickly realized that they would, paradoxically, have to scrape together more money to afford to "escape" to overcrowded, deteriorating Central Harlem than to migrate to the "suburban" South Bronx. Most took the more logical course of action. Their vacated tenements were soon occupied by New York's newest immigrantsthe Puerto Ricanswho began to settle en masse in East Harlem in the late 1920s.**
While it is impossible to determine what percentage of Harlem's Jewish population migrated to which new section of New York City in the 1920s, some indication of the major directions of the dispersal may be discerned through the study of the out-migration of Harlem-based institutions. Although the overwhelming number of Harlem Jewish organizationsespecially the immigrant landsmanshaften synagogues and clubssimply disintegrated as their members exited from the neighborhoods, several of the major Jewish institutions did survive their era in Harlem and were reestablished in the new Jewish neighborhoods on the West Side and Washington Heights of Manhattan and in the Bronx. As a rule, most formerly Central-Harlem-based institutions remained within Manhattan, while most of East Harlem's surviving institutions relocated out of the borough and were reconstituted in various parts of the northernmost borough.
The first institutions to move out of the district were those located on the periphery of the major Central Harlem settlement, north of 130th Street. Congregation Anshe Emeth of 131st Street and Seventh Avenue led the way in 1917 by merging with a new congregation, Mount Sinai of 181st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. That group was followed to Washington Heights three years later by a neighboring synagogue, The Hebrew Tabernacle, which relocated from 130th Street to temporary quarters on Upper Broadway.
The Hebrew Tabernacle had led a tenuous existence in North Harlem almost from the day it was founded in 1905. Its congregational history reflects the trials of the many small local congregations which did not share in the great fat years of Jewish Harlem-bound migration in the early years of this century. Situated away from the major centers of Harlem Jewish life, this congregation always had difficulty attracting members and worshipers. For this synagogue, organizational life was an on-going struggle for existence in a predominantly non-Jewish section of uptown. As early as 1908, for example, the congregation was obliged to hire paid worshipers to maintain daily morning and evening services. Despite these and other financial difficulties, the congregation did grow slowly and was eventually able to erect its own synagogue building. And at one point in its history it even succeeded in enrolling some 400 children in its Sunday School.
By 1918, however, synagogue officials understood that the Tabernacle could no longer survive in North Harlem. In April, synagogue trustees reported that the daily minyan could not be maintained without a substantial increase in the wages paid to daily worshipers. Several months later, they noted that religious school enrollment had dropped off precipitously. Finally, in January 1919, recognizing that "the expenses of conducting services are largely in excess of the (synagogue's) income," Tabernacle membership authorized its trustees to "dispose of our quarters on terms which they deem proper, if opportunities present themselves." Although the majority of members was in agreement that the synagogue had to be moved, there was much less of a consensus over where the new synagogue should be located. One faction, led by Rev. Edward Lissman, founder, rabbi, life-member and former treasurer of the congregation, sought to relocate the institution along Riverside Drive, south of 120th Street. Another faction headed by board of trustees member Louis Austern, saw Washington Heights as the future home of the Hebrew Tabernacle.
The next year was marked by several complicated congregational intrigues as both Lissman and Austern attempted to devise means of determining the synagogue's future. Austern undertook to negotiate several merger agreements with small Washington Heights groups, while Lissman tried to prevail upon the board to purchase a new site at 83rd Street and Riverside Drive. Neither succeeded in gaining majority support for his program.
Finally, late in 1919, the Austern faction won out, the Hebrew Tabernacle was sold and the congregation moved to temporary quarters at 158th Street and Broadway. Two years later, Washington Heights' newest synagogue was firmly reestablished in a newly altered building on St. Nicholas Avenue. Soon the congregation would once again boast of a religious school enrollment of more than 350 students.
Lissman did not follow the majority of his congregants further uptown. He resigned his lifetime membership and pulpit late in 1920 and established a new synagogue, Riverside Synagogue at 108th Street and Broadway. Bitter over Austern's victory, he called upon his supporters to nullify the trustees' decision by leaving the Tabernacle to help him serve "a needed requirement in the immediate vicinity of Broadway between 105-120th Streets." Joining Lissman's Riverside Synagogue in serving the growing West Side Jewish community were several of Central Harlem's oldest and most affluent congregations, which followed their members in migrating west of Central Park in the 1920s. Temple Israel, for example, sold its synagogue at Lenox Avenue and 120th Street to a group of Seventh Day Adventists in 1920 and moved to 91st Street between Avenue and Broadway, "following," as Rabbi Harris put it, "the westward drift of our congregants."
Congregations Shaarei Zedek and Ohab Zedek and Temple Anshe continued their traditions of following their most affluent members to newer sections of Manhattan and also erected large synagogue buildings on the West Side during this period. These three synagogues, it will be remembered, all began as small immigrant congregations on the Lower East Side at different points during the nineteenth century. Each synagogue eventually left the downtown area, following its membership to Harlem, and each established large houses of worship in the Lenox Avenue section of uptown. By 1926 each had followed the Jewish migration out of Central Harlem and had been reestablished in the fashionable area west of Central Park and south of 100th Street.
Three years later, Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein established a branch of the Institutional Synagogue on the West Side. Alert to the changes in Jewish demography, Goldstein recognized that his constituency of young Jewish men and women was rapidly abandoning Harlem. His goals of instilling "the twin ideals of patriotic Americanism and Judaism" would be best continued among the young people of Manhattan's new Jewish neighborhood. Services under his auspices were first conducted in a rented hall at Broadway and 83rd Street in 1927. Two years later, a synagogue center was established at 76th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. Despite its ever dwindling number of members, its apparently non-existent dues base, and the resignation of Rabbi Goldstein in 1938, the Harlem Institutional Synagogue continued to operate until 1943. This achievement was due not so much to the great commitment of its remaining supporters to keep the moribund institution alive, as it was to its favorable rental agreement with the New York City Board of Education. In March 1933, the Institutional Synagogue contracted with the Board to rent its schoolroom space for use by a junior high school, at a rate of $10,000 per annum. When, in 1943, a new junior high school was built in Harlem, The Harlem Institutional Synagogue lost its last major source of income and its building was sold.
The first East Harlem Jewish Institution to follow its constituency to a new section of New York was the Rabbi Israel Salanter Talmud Torah, which in 1923 removed from its original home at 114th Street and Madison Avenue to Washington Avenue in the South Bronx, where it was renamed Yeshiva Rabbi Israel Salanter of the Bronx. This particular institution was destined to continue following the generational migrations of Bronx Jewry. In 1940, the Salanter Yeshiva moved to Webster Avenue in the Tremont section of the borough. And in 1970 the then declining Yeshiva moved to Riverdale, New York, the city's newest Jewish residential neighborhood, where it merged with two other schools and was renamed and reinvigorated as the S/A/R Academy.
Late in the 1925, Central Harlem's Krakower Simon Schreiber Synagogue moved from its rented quarters at Westminster Hall at 114th Street and Lenox Avenue to Townsend Avenue near the Grand Concourse. There it was joined by East Harlem's Kehal Adath Jeshurun which migrated to nearby Gerard Avenue and 165th Street. This latter religious group soon merged with an indigenous Bronx congregation, Agudath Jeshurun.
Workmen's Circle Branch#2 also responded to the out-migration of most of its members during the late 1920s by shifting the site of its meetings from East Harlem to the Bronx, upholding its oldest tradition of serving members in their own neighborhoods. Branch officials, once leaders of Harlem's most important laboringman's organization, expressed little if any sadness over their decision to leave the old neighborhood. N. Davidoff, chairman of the Branch in 1929, may have best articulated the sentiments of his membership when he noted: "Branch #2 was born in Harlem and we have lived there and grown, when the time came and the majority of members moved away to the Bronx, it was natural that the branch go where the greatest number of members were. Therefore we can see, that although we are growing old, we are keeping up with the times."
This description of the out-migration of the few Harlem Jewish institutions that successfully followed their members out of the deteriorating neighborhood does not, however, presume to suggest that the West Side, Washington Heights and the Bronx were the only places that absorbed large numbers of Harlem's Jews. Nor can one say conclusively that these areas took in the majority of the migrantsit is entirely possible that Brooklyn, which showed the most prolific growth during the 1920s, did in actuality attract more Jews from Harlem. It is also certainly conceivable that many small synagogue groups, landsmanshaften and clubs moved to Brooklyn or Queens and were immediately consolidated with existing organizations in the other boroughs, quickly surrendering their "Harlem identity."
This study does, however, help confirm certain of our impressions about the process and timetable of Jewish migration out of Harlem. Central Harlem's institutions, founded and supported by the district's most affluent Jews, were the first to move. Their relocation to the fashionable West Side and Washington Heights indicates that at least some of Harlem's most upwardly mobile residents continued their economic climb in these new middle-class Manhattan neighborhoods.
East Harlem's institutions began to migrate out of their neighborhoods at a slightly later date. The presence of former East Harlem organizations in a variety of sections of the Bronx, including the relatively low-rent district of the South Bronx, indicates that East Harlem's less affluent former residents had achieved the basic level of economic advancement needed to break the uptown ghetto's grip and were able to take advantage of the residential opportunities offered by the Bronx. Their migration from Harlem was, as an anonymous contemporary put it, "not due to economic need. The removal is voluntary and the reason is not gloomy. Jews on the road to bettering themselves and making life more convenient for themselves, moved from Harlem up to the Bronx."
* In 1920, some 2,260 Jews lived in a North Harlem area which had become almost exclusively Black. Taking the census district with the largest concentration (133rd to 140th Street, Fifth and Lenox Avenues) as an example, we find that the proportion of Blacks rose from approximately 50 percent of the total in 1910 to 96 percent ten years later. The Jewish population declined from 11 percent to 3 percent of the total. However, the approximately 450 Jews who remained in the district constituted almost the entire white presence in the district. The Jewish presence in the census tract district of 134th to 138th Street, between Lenox and Eighth Avenues, actually increased in the ten year period, which saw the Black percentage of the population rise from less than 20 to 77 percent of the total. Some 730 Jews resided in that district in 1920 where approximately 600 resided there a decade earlier. See Laidlaw, Statistical Sources for Demographic Studies of Greater New York, (New York: The New York City 1920 Census Committee, 1923), passim.
** The history and problems of the so-called "Black Jews of Harlem" lie outside the scope of this present study. These groups, espousing a syncretistic Jewish and Christian theology and advocating a Black nationalist ideology closely linked with Marcus Garvey's "Back to Africa" movement, maintained little if any contact with our white Jewish community of Harlem. As early as July 1933, a study of the "Negro Jews" determined that theirs was, "except for its exploitative aspects, a Negro (movement) and therefore, outside the realm of Jewish social service - except from the broader humanitarian and internationalistic viewpoint." See Edward Wolf, "Negro Jews: A Social study," Jewish Social Service Quarterly (June 1933), pp. 314-19. See also Howard Brotz, The Black Jews of Harlem: Negro Nationalism and the Dilemmas of Negro Leadership (New York: Schocken Books, 1970).