Learning About Jewish Community From Manhattan's Upper West Side

Neighborhood Shows an Abiding Commitment to Jewish Life

Once Upon a Time on the Upper West: In 1930, when this photo was taken, the view of the Grant Memorial and Riverside Drive was not as cluttered as it is today.
Getty Images
Once Upon a Time on the Upper West: In 1930, when this photo was taken, the view of the Grant Memorial and Riverside Drive was not as cluttered as it is today.

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Published November 08, 2013, issue of November 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The recent findings of the Pew Research Center study (yes, that again) have left many of us scratching our heads, biting our nails and searching every which way for answers. Some have sought explanation, let alone consolation, in the broad strokes of macro-analysis, others in anecdote and still others in history.

The past, as you know, is my default position: I’m often the only one in the room who looks backward rather than forward. But in October, at a gathering convened by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of the storied congregation Ansche Chesed, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the past was within everyone’s sights.

This event, which zeroed in on the vibrant history of the Upper West Side and on the ways in which it continues to loom large as the model of an engaged, and varied, Jewish citizenry, featured yours truly as well as John Podhoretz, editor of the magazine Commentary, and John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of New York’s UJA-Federation.

Each of us was called on to hold forth from our respective perches about the neighborhood’s significance. That all three of us also happened to be longtime residents of the West Side burnished our laurels and, one hopes, deepened our credibility.

The gathering, Kalmanofsky told me, had been prompted by the recent death of several elderly congregants who had arrived on the Upper West Side more than 60 years earlier as refugees and displaced persons. It was also prompted by his own musings on the relationship between the individual and the collective. Taking stock, the rabbi encouraged the members of Ansche Chesed to share their photographic memories of the neighborhood and to attend — and participate — in a discussion about change and stasis, ebb and flow, the site specific and the reproducible.

Despite the early hour — a Sunday morning — and the weather, a picture-perfect fall day, Ansche Chesed’s ballroom was chock-a-block with Upper West Siders eager to tell their stories, share their reminiscences and make a political point or two. But first they had to listen to what the panelists had to say. I set things in motion with a swiftly paced account of the neighborhood’s emergence during the interwar years into what one former resident, writing in 1947, described as “a way of life, with its own modes and rituals and codes.”

Podhoretz, picking up where I left off, chronicled the neighborhood’s decline during the postwar era, while Ruskay focused on the efflorescence of Jewish cultural creativity that began in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and whose effects are still being felt generations later.


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!
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • 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.