Founded on the Lower East Side, B’nai Brith Celebrates 175 Years

Posted on: October 19th, 2018 at 5:08 am by

The oldest Jewish service organization in the world began here on the Lower East Side, and this year celebrates a major milestone.

B’nai Brith International (“Sons of the Covenant”) – now in its 175th year – was founded on Essex Street in October 1843 by a dozen immigrants of German-Jewish descent.

Of course, at that time, the neighborhood looked vastly different. The recent arrivals’ inaugural meeting was at Aaron Sinsheimer’s ground-level cafe at 60 Essex Street, in what was then a three-story Federal-style brick building (under Seward Park Extension housing). Each founder lent the astronomical sum of $5 to start the club, whose primary goal was helping off-the-boat Jews adjust to their new lives in America. B’nai B’rith also would provide financial assistance to widows and orphans through insurance policies and various charities.

Sinsheimer’s Cafe on Essex St., Photo: B’nai Brith

B’nai B’rith became a juggernaut early on. It went national, and membership swelled into the thousands by the end of the Civil War, with sixty-six lodges around the country. According to the official website, the group notched the following achievements:

  • Covenant Hall, erected in 1851,  was the first Jewish community center in the United States.
  • Established the Maimonides Library in New York one year later, the first Jewish public library in the United States.
  • Following the Civil War—when Jews on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line were left homeless—B’nai B’rith founded the 200-bed Cleveland Jewish Orphan Home, described at the time as the most modern orphanage.

If you stroll by the location today, it’s fairly easy to overlook the plaque dedicated by the city on the nation’s bicentennial (July 4, 1976). The honor is emblazoned on the perimeter wall of the Seward Park Extension.

And B’nai B’rith is now headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Recent Stories

Cactus Store Resumes Summertime Residency on Essex Street

The Cactus Store returned to the Lower East Side this weekend for its fourth seasonal outing, and first since coronavirus ruined everything. As before, the succulents sellers plant annual roots in the lot at 5 Essex Street. Infrastructure from prior years remains in place. Saturday was opening day. The Cactus Store is a product of […]

Ludlow Street Pizzeria Hits the Open Market

La Margarita Pizza might not have much time left in Hell Square. The Ludlow Street pizzeria is now pitched on the open market. The 800 square-foot store at 268 Ludlow appeared on Craigslist in late-May for $9,000 per month in rent. The listing caps some eight years in business for the Lower East Side pizza […]

Everynight Charley Checkup: Vilray at Rockwood Music Hall

What follows is the beginning of a periodic checkup of the downtown music scene with Everynight Charley Crespo, prolific Editor of The Manhattan Beat. The vocalist, guitarist and songwriter known simply as Vilray (pronounced vill-ree) has an uncanny ability to bridge past and present. Vilray, who does not use his family name, was raised in […]

Mictlan Mexico Brings Orchard Street South of the Border

There is a new taqueria on the Lower East Side. Natalin Perez, who currently operates Haab out in Brooklyn, just lifted the curtains on her new project. The fifteen-table restaurant at 17 Orchard Street, Mictlan Mexico. It takes the reins from the Fat Radish, which spent ten years serving the neighborhood before the pandemic chased […]

The Menace of Summertime Saturday Night on Ludlow Street

With comfort levels of close-quarters partying seemingly back to pre-pandemic norms, Hell Square has rebounded in kind. Neighbors report that any quality-of-life progress gained in this sixteen square-block sector over the last few years completely evaporated. The hordes of hellraisers were out in full force again this past Saturday night. One week after a roving […]