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

The Bizarre ‘Mumming’ History of Thanksgiving Masking

What follows is a reworking of a post originally published on Bowery Boogie in 2014. There was once a time when Thanksgiving customs more resembled Halloween masquerading than traditional turkey and history lessons. That’s right. So get out your masks, people! Thanksgivoween is upon us. Two key words: masking and mumming. To surmise thousands of […]

Children’s Magical Garden Files Lawsuit Against Developer Over Alleged Intimidation Tactics

The Children’s Magical Garden on Stanton Street is again battling its longtime nemesis, owner-developer of the neighboring parcel, The Horizon Group. Garden advocates led by Kate Temple-West filed a civil rights lawsuit Monday in New York State Supreme Court alleging that principal David Marom, who purchased the adjacent lot from Serge Hoyda in 2013, engaged […]

Pregnant Woman Shot by Parolee Boyfriend on LES Dies

A pregnant woman shot by her parolee boyfriend earlier this month died of her injuries last Thursday. The 27-year-old victim, who was about three months pregnant with the gunman’s baby, had been on life support since the November 11 incident, according to published reports. As previously reported, the perp – Bronx resident Dennis Fredricks, a […]

30-Story Tower at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Site Takes its Spot in LES Skyline

It’s not enough to have Essex Crossing dominate the Lower East Side skyline around Delancey Street. Now, another. The hulking tower rising from the literal ashes of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol is already halfway to the top, currently sitting at a healthy fifteen stories. This much after the better part of a year under construction. As […]

Uncapped: CAINE ONE Forever

Hey Boogie faithful! Guest writer, Freddy Alva, joins us again to go beneath the paint with us at Uncapped. The following is a stylized excerpt from the Queens Graffiti Legend’s Black Book containing interviews with LADY PINK, ROGER, Martha Cooper, FREEDOM, NOTCH 56, JIMMY 131, ZAR, PHANTOM and CAINE, childhood friend Eileen Galindo. Head over here […]