New York City's Jewish Enclaves Owen Hynes

New York City has always been one of the most diverse and culturally rich cities in the world. Since the city’s foundation over 300 years ago, it has been a common destination for people moving into the country. Today 36% of people living in New York are immigrants, creating hundreds of individual ethnic enclaves. One of the biggest ethnic communities is the Jewish one. Jews have been persecuted throughout history resulting in their displacement. New York, being an immigration hub, has attracted as many as 8 million Jews. Jewish populations have also brought their cultural characteristics with them as well. The history of Jews immigrating to the New York City and the preservation of culture has created benefits of having enclaves like this one.

The first Jews to come to New York came in 1654, when Jews from Refecile, Brazil were fleeing the Portuguese who had just conquered the part of Brazil they were in. Sephardic Jews then left to Amsterdam and New Amsterdam which is modern day New York. At first, they were not accepted but with pressure from Jewish stock holders in the Dutch West India Company, they were let to stay. The second group of Jews that came to New York was in 1805 after the Napoleonic War. Jews had been emancipated and granted liberties by the French after they had conquered territories, but after Napoleon was defeated a counter revolution started removing the freedoms granted. This angered many Jews causing them to leave. The last and biggest influx of Jews was during a thirty-five year period starting in 1881 when Jews were escaping persecution in Russia. It started when Russian’s blamed Jews for assassinating Alexander II, which triggered years of discrimination and laws passed against them, which may have been supported by the Russian government itself. People became tired of being discriminated against, so in turn, young skilled Jews left in waves to New York. New York at the time was starting to become very big due to the Erie Canal and housed lots of economic opportunity in part from the creation of factories. A lot of Jewish workers from Russia were skilled in the clothes industry, which dominated New York’s economy.

Jew who immigrated brought with them their unique cultural identities, which is reflected on the surrounding areas of where they live. Hasidic Orthodox jewish enclaves are probably one of the most noticeable you will see in New York City. Hasidic jews traditionally wear an arrangement of dark clothing. On weekdays men wear long and black jackets called a rekel, and for Jewish holidays men wear a bekishe, which is the same thing but instead of cloth the jackets are made out of a material called satin. Satin has a glossy front but a more dull back. Indoors a more colorful bekishe can be worn, and on the Sabbath a white one is used. Hats are worn also on a regular basis but vary depending on the sect. For example velvet or beaver hats are worn by Galician and Hungarian Hasidic Jews, and Chabad often pinch the top of their hats together to make a triangle. What you may also notice walking around New York City is that orthodox jews have beards or long sideburns. This is because the bible instructs them not to shave the sides of their head. These peyes originate from Leviticus in the Torah as it instructs to not “round off the pe'at of your head”

Rabbi Jacob Meir Sagalowitch, wife Bluma Borishansky Sagalowitch, and grandson Joel Sagall in front of Kehillat Yaakov in the 1940's

Jewish enclaves and enclaves in general are beneficial to immigrants coming into the country. When people immigrate enclaves provide a community that they can relate too which helps them adjust to life in their new country. For example, when Jews migrate here from Israel they might stay in a Jewish enclave in New York where they know people can speak their language, follow the same religion, and culturally are also very similar. This is very helpful because if these people did not go to any enclave or couldn’t go to one they would be very lost when they first got here. They wouldn’t be able to speak english so it would be very for them to communicate with anyone, thus making it hard for them to find a place to stay or work. But, if they know where people that are similar to them are they can just go there and talk to them in the same language and give them a job or a house etc. Slowly they will become more acclimated to their new environment and either decide to stay there or move out.

Jewish enclaves and all ethnic enclaves alike make New York City one of the most ethnically diverse places in the world. Since its foundation people have been immigrating to New York, escaping troubles from their home country or looking for new opportunities, and with them bringing their rich individual ethnic background that grow into new communities in the city. Each part of New York has its own feel and diverse culture that goes with it, something that can’t be captured anywhere else. New York City is a melting pot for people all over the world.

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