Lower East Side Development Spells Decline of Old Jewish Power Brokers

Seward Park Project Signals End of Era in Old Neighborhood

Location, Location: The development of an unimpressive looking stretch of the lower East Side after decades of delay signals a political changing of the guard in the fast gentrifying area of Manhattan.
ari jankelowitz
Location, Location: The development of an unimpressive looking stretch of the lower East Side after decades of delay signals a political changing of the guard in the fast gentrifying area of Manhattan.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published March 04, 2013, issue of March 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The five empty blocks along Delancey Street near the Williamsburg Bridge weren’t supposed to spend 50 years housing parked cars.

Yet there stand the parking lots, their half-century-long presence a testament to the political muscle of the Jews of Grand Street in blocking unwanted development on New York’s Lower East Side. But new construction on these sites may start soon and that, in turn, is a testament to how Jewish political muscle is starting to weaken.

Power on the Lower East Side lacks mystery. Ask a resident of the Grand Street co-op apartment complexes who has power in the neighborhood and the answer is straightforward: Shelly, Willie and Heshy.

That’s Sheldon Silver to you, speaker of the New York State Assembly and a Grand Street local. William Rapfogel, also a Grand Street resident, is head of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a massive citywide social service agency. Heshy Jacob is officially the manager of two of the Grand Street co-ops, but he’s also a local operator involved in just about everything.

The three are the backbone of Grand Street, neighborhood shorthand for the co-op complexes built by the heavily Jewish garment unions after World War II.

“We put in time and effort for the people,” Jacob said. “It’s not that we simply are despots.”

Their leadership isn’t being directly challenged. But the Lower East Side is changing, and the men are working to keep from being left behind.


When former Community Board No. 3 president Dominic Berg moved to Grand Street in 1999, the Lower East Side was on the brink of gentrification. Within a few years, the neighborhood would be full of luxury apartment buildings and expensive restaurants. The parking lots on the south side of Delancey, however, would still be parking lots.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.