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

Cajun Quietly Comes to Hell Square with ‘Parish NYC’

Out of nowhere, this new Cajun spot for Hell Square. Parish debuted last month at 146 Orchard Street. The arrival of Parish (the word for “county” in Louisiana) comes on the heels of Butcher Bar, the Astoria-based barbecue bar that shuttered back in September after little more than a year. According to its mission statement […]

NYC Half Marathon Foists Thousands of Runners onto the Lower East Side Next Month

On your mark, get set … for thousands of marathoners on the proverbial doorstep. The New York City Half Marathon is less than a month out, and for the second year running, the Lower East Side is in the crosshairs. The race route shifted last year to include spanning the Manhattan Bridge, Canal Street, and […]

Bowery Demolition Site Hits Market for $26M

One year ago, side-by-side three-story tenements comprising 139-141 Bowery were quickly demolished. The narrative at the time was that of a mixed-use replacement tower to rise in its place. Instead, it’s been crickets for much of the interim. Now, the double-wide property – measuring 50-by-100 feet – is on the chopping block for a hefty […]

Did You Spend $22 at Tower Records on Valentine’s Day 1985?

Here’s a fun find. Local music ephemera from 1985. Bowery Boogie contributor Robert Carmona discovered this pristine receipt from Tower Records while working a residential construction job on East 3rd Street. Date of the archaic transaction is Valentine’s Day 1985, most likely at the store nearby on East 4th Street (RIP 2006). One item was […]

Lesbian Shopkeepers on Orchard Street Win Empire State Building’s Valentine’s Day Wedding Contest

Love is in the air! One Lower East Side couple will have their heads in the clouds this Valentine’s Day. Literally. Co-owners of home design store, Coming Soon on Orchard Street, Fabiana Faria and Helena Barquet were one of two couples to win the Empire State Building’s 25th annual “Valentine’s Day Wedding Contest.” Their 15-minute […]