Friday, August 08, 2008

Hurban in New York

We're now in the season for mourning. Our minds are on the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash, which followed on two military defeats. But we in New York are witness to another hurban, which peaked twenty to thirty years ago, and this time we don't have a foreign enemy to blame.

My running takes me to just about every neighborhood in Brooklyn, and sometimes beyond. Wherever I go, I see the wreckage of once beautiful Jewish neighborhoods. Brownsville, East New York, East Flatbush, it just goes on and on. I see churches, plenty of churches. Brooklyn was always known as the borough of churches, and I don't begrudge our Christian neighbors their worship, but too many of these churches were once shuls. You can see the markings. Sometimes the Christians who bought the premises are simply too poor to remove the Jewish markings; it isn't a priority for them. I suspect that sometimes Christian triumphalism is involved; for them it's a point of pride that the Jews left and Christians now own their buildings. Sometimes the Christian buyers do remove the markings, but one can guess from the architecture that the building was once a shul. I'd rather guess than know for certain.

Why did it happen? Simple. As soon as a few "others" move into a neighborhood, the Jews run away like rabbits. The sickness isn't confined to the Orthodox; plenty of Reform temples suffered the same fate. I wouldn't be complaining if the Jewish congregations had picked themselves up and moved en masse to Israel, but they moved out to the suburbs instead. As if when Jews move from one galut to another, the galut problems they run away from do not always catch up. And now we have a trail of hillul Hashem from the Grand Concourse in the north to Coney Island in the south.

Seventh-Day Adventist church in Remsen
Village. If you look closely, you can see
Maginei David on the fenicng.

Sha'arei Zedek of Crown Heights, north of
Eastern Parkway, now a church.

Sha'rei Torah, now the Salem Missionary
Baptist Church. It's about three miles from my
home, and I often pass it when I run.

For me the most painful sight. Grace Deliverane
Tabernacle, once Beth Israel of Remsen Avenue,
where my uncle a"h served as rabbi for over thirty
years. When I would visit my uncle, we would
walk to shul together, and I often got maftir and
read the haftara from the bima.

And to think that we have no one to blame but ourselves.
. . . . איכה ישבה בדד העיר רבתי עם

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

While it's tragic (and honestly, fascinating), it's not right to call it a churban. Not one Jew was killed. You demean the true churban and other true heirs to the term by calling some changed buildings a churban.

Sat Aug 09, 10:42:00 PM EDT  
Blogger cipher said...

Same here in Boston. The Jews moved out to the suburbs decades ago. Coolidge Corner in Brookline, where I live, is still, nominally, the center of Jewish Boston, but it's rapidly giving way to young professionals and kids from Boston University a few blocks down the road. And even it's technically a suburb (we tend to chop everything up into small towns here).

In the Boston neighborhoods that used to be largely Jewish, you can still see buildings with Maginei David that are now churches, schools, etc. And there aren't even that many of them left; a lot were torn down in the process of urban renewal.

Sun Aug 10, 10:06:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Garnel Ironheart said...

I agree that it's not a Churban. It's a shame, true, but like the word Shoah, Churban must be used with extreme care.

Having said that, I used to live in downtown Toronto which today is Chinatown but 50 years ago was the most densely packed Jewish community on Earth. Just like NY, the Jews moved away to the 'burbs leaving the buildings behind and one of the things I used to like doing on Shabbos afternoons was to wander around the neighbourhood looking for traces of the old community.

All I can say is: they don't build shuls like they used to and that's a real pity.

Wed Aug 13, 07:56:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Neandershort said...

Obviously I was using the word hurban loosely, perhaps too loosely. But Eicha does speak of destruction of land as well as people. Then we at least had the comfort of knowing that we fought the good fight and lost honorably. No shame in taking on the superpowers of the age at the peak of their power and losing. But now? We didn't even attempt to stand our ground; if we had, we'd be living with our Gentile neighbors side by side in peace. Instead we ran like rabbits. And for what? What did we gain from moving to the suburbs? Harsher winters (click here), longer commutes, ever-increasing commuting costs (who envisioned $4/gallon gasoline when we abandoned our homes in the city?), and always chasing after vanity. It's hard to feel comfort now when every abandoned, neglected, overgrown or churchified shul or yeshiva is a monument to Jewish weakness - and stupidity.

Fri Aug 15, 12:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger cipher said...

I agree with everything you're saying - but isn't the winter equally as harsh in Brooklyn and Westchester?

Fri Aug 15, 12:50:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Neandershort said...

Not quite. In Brooklyn the water moderates the climate so we don't get as much snow, nor is it quite as cold as in the suburbs, north and west especially. Spring also comes later to the burbs. Trivial to most of us perhaps, but not to yours truly, who becomes profoundly depressed in cold weather.

Fri Aug 15, 01:11:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the shaarei torah on albermarle and 21, lookes relativvely "new". the style looks like it could be late fifties to late sixties.
having grown up in brooklyn (midwood), and driving up church ave to downstate, in the 80s i never saw it before.

how about pennsylavina avenue near sutter and blake etc. theres alot of old shuls there that are churches-really big ones taht are magnificent structures.
or drive along the grand concourse, it make me ill to see all of the grand structures there that are that one day fifty years ago were full with yidden and are now forlown,
or near gun hill road in the bronx as well.

Tue Sep 02, 12:59:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Neandershort said...

I was postdocing at the Bronx Veterans in the late 1980s, at the height of the crack epidemic. Going home, I'd run south on the Grand Concourse from Kingsbridge Rd to 149 St, then east to Third Ave, south again across the Third Ave Bridge and pick up the train at 125th and Lex for the trip back to Brooklyn. My kippa was firmly on my head, which then had enough hair to hold it on, as I passed shul after shul abandoned. One in particular, the Hebrew Institute of University Heights, looked like it was being used as a shooting gallery.
I was a brave man, I was crazy, I was taking my life in my hands running in that neighborhood with a kippa, right? Wrong. I had a fan club of sorts, minority children (and what are we, a majority?) cheering me as I'd run past. Nobody ever touched a hair of my head, and I must have run that route dozens of times.
Later on, the NY Road Runners put on a half marathon on that route, on a Sunday morning, and I'd pass the same buildings and be cheered by worshipers at what had become churches. As I remarked to another Jewish runner that I passed, that area was once prime Jewish real estate, then other minorities moved in and we ran away, and now barukh Hashem we were doing another kind of running. And showing the people who replaced us another kind of Jew.

Tue Sep 02, 03:15:00 AM EDT  

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