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

Black Seed Bagels will Reopen on Elizabeth Street Next Month

One month after an early-morning fire ripped through the original Black Seed Bagels in Little Italy, the business is on the mend. And might reopen sooner than initially expected. As in next month. On March 7, a fire sparked on-premise and knocked out the whole bagel operation. Firefighters were successful in extinguishing the blaze and […]

Tsaôcaa & Bào Bubble Tea Spot Opens on Ludlow Street

Three months after the Thai ice creamery, Juicy Spot, faded from Ludlow Street, another snack shop is now operational. This time, the M.O. is all things bubble tea. Tsaôcaa & Bào recently opened at 109 Ludlow, just north of Delancey Street. It describes itself as a bubble tea business that “strives for ultimate freshness and […]

Time is Short for the Longtime Subway Florist of 14th Street

With the rebranded L train “slowdown” one day away, time is slim for the longtime subway florist on 14th Street. Our roving photographer – Lower East Side native Robert Carmona – caught up with the subterranean peddler last month to learn the latest. Periklis Tsoumas, who has been at the 1st Avenue and 14th Street […]

Report: Tenement Museum Workers Unionize

The front-facing staff of the Tenement Museum, after many failed attempts throughout the years, have finally agreed to unionize. A vote was held last week in which all education, retail, and visitor services employees mobilized to join Local 2110 UAW (United Auto Workers). The measure passed by a 96% margin. The vote was spurred by […]

Sunshine Cinema Signage Carted Away

Sunshine, sunset, swiftly goes the demolition. Indeed, no sooner did the sidewalk bridge appear at 141 East Houston Street than workers deposed the Sunshine Cinema neon lettering. We’re told that a van carted the signage away yesterday. Co-owner-developer East End Capital did not return our request about the fate of the letters. Meanwhile, the demolition […]