This is a colour photograph of the Eldridge Street Synagogue located at 12 Eldridge Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York. The 2011 photograph shows the cream-coloured facade of the building with a large, circular window in the centre. The building sits close to the street, and there is a small flight of stairs leading to the entrance. This modern photograph depicts the impressive building located between Asian shops and apartment blocks.
The building’s non-Jewish German architects were influenced by Moorish Revival style of the synagogues in Munich and Dresden in Germany. Built in 1887, the Eldridge Street Synagogue was the first large synagogue built by Eastern European Jews in New York. Due to changing demographics, by the 1950s, the remaining Jewish community was not able to afford the upkeep on the building and it fell into disrepair. In 1986 a group of philanthropists worked together to save the synagogue, and in 1996 it was declared a National Historic Landmark. In 2007, renovations were completed, and the synagogue currently operates as both a synagogue and a museum.
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The Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York – The Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City has traditionally been home to immigrants. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, most of the new immigrants to New York settled in the Lower East Side. Between 1880 and 1924, more than 2.5 million Jews immigrated to the United States, 60 percent of whom lived for some period of time in the Lower East Side. They lived in overcrowded tenements, which were low cost apartments, housing large extended families in one apartment and often sharing a bathroom with other tenants. Although by 1920 immigrants from Greece, Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine also lived in the Lower East Side, the largest ethnic group was Ashkenazi Jews with a population of 400,000. Yiddish was spoken on the streets and merchants, many using handcarts, lined the streets. Unsafe housing and working conditions led to the rise of political activism and social reform. Many well-known Jews grew up in the Lower East Side such as the labour union leader Samuel Gompers and entertainers like the Marx Brothers, Irving Berlin, and Ira Gershwin. As the Jewish community became more affluent and moved away from the Lower East Side, new immigrant groups moved in. Currently, the Lower East Side has a large number of immigrants from Latin America and China. Although the Jewish population has declined, many of the synagogues, including the Eldridge Street Synagogue, still remain.
Immigration to America – Sephardi Jews were the first to arrive to New Amsterdam (later named New York) in 1654 from Brazil. Large numbers of German Jews arrived in the United States in the 1840s due to persecution and a lack of economic opportunities. By the onset of World War I, 250,000 German-speaking Jews had arrived in America. They settled in America, spread throughout the country, and built institutions such as B’nai Brith and the American Jewish Committee. Eastern European Jews began to arrive in America after the 1880s, fleeing from pogroms, persecution, and poverty in their home countries. These new immigrants spoke mostly Yiddish and came from less educated and more traditional backgrounds. Many were attracted to labour and socialist movements, eventually becoming leaders in their communities. They tended to live in poorer neighbourhoods of large cities, often working in the sweatshops of the garment industry. The large waves of Jewish immigration to America ended in 1924.
Jewish Community of the United States – At the time of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, between 1,500 and 2,500 Jews were living in the United States, most of them Sephardi. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a wave of German Jews, largely secular and educated, arrived in the United States. Another wave of immigration arrived from Eastern Europe, a result of pogroms and the difficult economic situation in these countries . Most of these new immigrants were Ashkenazi and spoke mainly Yiddish. They arrived, believing that the United States was a “goldene medina,” a country of gold, but the reality was hard. Many of the newcomers worked as manual labourers in difficult conditions, such as in the sweatshops in New York’s Lower East Side. By the beginning of the twentieth century, more than a million Jews lived in the United States, most of them in New York City. Despite immigration quotas, by 1940 the American Jewish population numbered more the 4.5 million. While the first generation of immigrants lived in close-knit Yiddish-speaking communities, the next generation integrated quickly and, in many cases, assimilated into American society and became prominent in many areas of American life. Today American Jews are extremely influential in American politics, business, academia, and culture. Over the last few decades Jews from many countries, such as Russia, Iran, and Israel, have arrived in the United States. The American Jewish community is the second largest Jewish community in the world, numbering between 5.5 and 7 million people. More than 2 million Jews live in New York, making it the city with the largest Jewish population in the world. Half of American Jews consider themselves religious, and there are many Jewish organisations and institutions in the country.