Credit: David Paler / Museum of Jewish Heritage
The Museum of Jewish Heritage–A Living Memorial to the Holocaust may be one of the lesser known monuments to Jewish history in New York, but it is a potent one.
From the Lower East Side to Brooklyn, from Milton Berle to Jerry Seinfeld, Jewish people are fundamental to New York City’s image of itself. With a population of 1.1 million, Jews make up about 13% of the city’s population, but their influence through figures like Robert Moses, Michael Bloomberg, and Woody Allen testifies to a far larger impact than numbers would indicate.
Television began in New York. It debuted at the World’s Fair in 1939 and developed through flagship stations of the CBS and NBC networks. Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater was broadcast from Studio 6B at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan. The Goldbergs was set in the Bronx. Ralph Kramden drove a bus for the Gotham Bus Company.
So by returning to Gotham in 1991, the CBS sitcom Brooklyn Bridge was bringing television back to where it began. Broadcast in 1991 and set in 1956, the series followed a Jewish family in the borough, and television was central to their lives and their home. The show created a dialogue between television’s history and New York’s histories as they move from midcentury to the turn of the century.
The original home of the Forverts, now the Jewish Daily Forward, on the Lower East Side
Does newspaper have a sound? Is it the rustling of paper? The pop-up ads of the digital world? The short films on the New York Times website? Or might it also be articles and editorials read aloud to old-country parents or to grandmothers and grandfathers that can’t read?
At the turn of the twentieth century, Yiddish newspapers were material documents of life on the Lower East Side. They were guidebooks to old-world communities and to new-world assimilation. They taught immigrants how to be American, but they did so in foreign languages. They tied people together, tied people who didn’t know one another together in the common experience of reading about the day’s affairs. You didn’t have to be face-to-face with your neighbors to feel connected to them.