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

My Time Recording the Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley During his Lower East Side Years

Beloved Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley passed away of a suspected heart attack last week (December 6). Ken Lockie, singer-songwriter and sometime collaborator with John (Rotten) Lydon of Public Image Ltd., fondly recalls his time behind the board with Shelley thirty years ago in Williamsburg and on the Lower East Side. Pete Shelley was a charming, likable, […]

Cristin Tierney Gallery Takes Space on the Bowery

The decade-running trend of Chelsea gallery refugees quartering on the Lower East Side continues with news of another. The Cristin Tierney gallery just signed a lease to take over 219 Bowery. It sits one store south of the Camper Lab concept shop, both of which formerly comprised the Chair Up restaurant supplier. Tierney, who had […]

Checking in on the Retail Restoration Project at 59 Bleecker Street

In the year since the dual departure of City Hats and Shapiro’s Hardware from Bleecker Street, the old NoHo corner spot has been under the knife. Shrouded in construction materials, the multimillion-dollar project to restore the century-old structure is now full throttle. Contractors headlong into gutting and chiseling, as evidenced by a recent walkby. The […]

‘Empire Gyro’ Readies 24-Hour Allen Street Eatery for Christmastime Debut

The tradition of 24-hour eateries at the southeast corner of Allen and East Houston continues with Empire Gyro. The new fast food Mediterranean spot, which takes over from the utilitarian Sugar Cafe, has been building out 200 Allen Street since early October. The menu is somewhat predictable, featuring soups, salads, kebabs, and shawarma. Empire Gyro […]

Neighborhood Group Prepares Lawsuit Against City Over Two Bridges Towers

“The City is trying to violate its own law to approve the luxury towers on the Two Bridges waterfront,” announces a flyer from the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors. Mere days after City Council leveled a lawsuit against the City Planning Commission for green-lighting the trio of skyscrapers, more such opposition is in store. The […]