Lower East Side: A Walking Tour Through Art and History
Art student, Simi Bleier, writes about Professor Ayzman's class trip to the Lower East Side
The Lower East Side is an iconic Jewish immigrant neighborhood in New York City, having been born and raised in NY, I’ve never been exposed to the life many grandparents, relatives or fellow jewish immigrants had to endure when they first came to NY. Today the Lower East Side of Manhattan has become a prime location where young artists and musicians are performing in a variety of music clubs as well as developers are quickly converting historic plots of real-estate into expensive lofts and new boutiques causing the evolving ethnic mix we have downtown today.
Although the Lower East Side is very different than it once was in the 19th century, I was fortunate to get a glimpse of various synagogues including the Bialystoker and Agudath Israel synagogues. Walking into these synagogues and looking at the books on the shelves, gave me great appreciation, these books were at least one hundred years old, I was able to touch history. During this tour I’ve seen and learnt things I’ve never known, the fine murals and beautifully stained glass windows in the Bialystoker Synagogue (formerly a church) were astonishing and exquisite.
At one point of the tour we passed a building that had art graffiti on it like I’ve never seen before, the story behind it was what got to me the most. This was one of the buildings that the government gave teenagers to paint on, because at the time teenagers all over NY were vandalizing properties with graffiti, and the side of this building was painted by Jewish teenagers. It reflected their story, Jewish immigrants arriving at the docks of America for the first time and the iconic image of Jewish women lighting Shabbat candles. The Lower East Side was the place where thousands of immigrants took their first steps in America hoping to live the American dream. It was the city that became home to many Jews. Historically, the Lower East Side was built on the legacy of the Jewish immigrants.
Today the Jewish community is not as big as it once was, but it’s still a strong, thriving community that continues to conserve its heritage. Seeing the architecture, walking the streets enabled me to feel the history that once lived in this very place, giving me an enormous appreciation. This experience changed my view of downtown Manhattan, its more than just a hip area with vintage boutiques and new developments, it’s a part of who I am as a Jew, its where I came from. It’s a part of America that will always draw hundreds of people from around the world to learn the hopes and struggles these Jewish immigrants lived through.