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

(page 3 of 6)

That’s changed.

“People don’t live forever,” he said.

If Rhodes is the new Grand Street, Heshy Jacob is the old Grand Street. Jacob isn’t just a building manager. He’s also the head of Hatzolah, the Jewish volunteer ambulance company, and the chairman of the United Jewish Council, the umbrella group for local Jewish organizations on the Lower East Side.

“If you’re the person that somebody has a problem and he goes to [you] day and night, you take the time and effort to help them, then they think you’re in charge,” Jacob said. “They go to Willie, they go to Heshy, they go to Shelly.”

The three men make an odd set. Rapfogel is clean cut and professional, a highly compensated not-for-profit CEO with a winning smile. Jacob, a Hasidic Jew with a beard and a white shirt, is known as a verbal brawler. Silver, for decades among the two or three most powerful men in New York State, operates behind the scenes, his fingerprints easy to miss.

The men are seen as allies. They all pray at the Bialystoker Shul on Willet Street, and Rapfogel’s wife, Judy, works as Silver’s chief of staff. Rapfogel, however, rejected the notion that the three formed some sort axis. “We don’t even speak that often,” he said.

The men have been in the neighborhood for decades, and they remember a time before gentrification when Rivington Street, now full of restaurants, was a dangerous place to be at night. Rapfogel said that the opposition of the old-school Jews of Grand Street to low-income housing in the neighborhood was rooted in that dangerous past.

“Many people felt that the most important thing for the community would be economic development on the Seward Park site,” said Rapfogel. “Their fear was that housing on that site would increase crime in an already crime-filled area.”


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!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • 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.