Emma Lazarus Memorial Plaque

This memorial plaque honoring Emma Lazarus, American Jewish poetess, is located in The Battery’s famous monument walk in Manhattan. The plaque itself is made from Israeli limestone and bronze gifted from the State of Israel to the Sisterhood of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogues.

Born on July 22, 1849 in New York City to a wealthy sugar refining family of Portuguese Sephardic Jewish descent whose roots extended to the very early days of New York City as a British colonial city, Emma Lazarus was the poet who wrote “The New Colossus” Aside from writing, Lazarus was also involved in charitable work for refugees. At Ward’s Island, she worked as an aide for Jewish immigrants who had been detained by Castle Garden immigration officials. She was deeply moved by the plight of the Russian Jews she met there and these experiences influenced her writing.

In 1883, William Maxwell Evarts and author Constance Cary Harrison asked Lazarus to compose a sonnet for the “Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty”. In turn, Lazarus, inspired by her own Sephardic Jewish heritage, her experiences working with refugees on Ward’s Island, and the plight of the immigrant, wrote “The New Colossus” on November 2, 1883. After the auction, the sonnet appeared in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World as well as The New York Times. She died in New York City on November 19, 1887, most likely from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Lazarus’ famous sonnet depicts the Statue as the “Mother of Exiles:” a symbol of immigration and opportunity – symbols associated with the Statue of Liberty today. After its initial popularity however, the sonnet slowly faded from public memory. It was not until 1901, 17 years after Lazarus’s death, that Georgina Schuyler, a friend of hers, found a book containing the sonnet in a bookshop and organized a civic effort to resurrect the lost work. Her efforts paid off and in 1903, words from the sonnet were inscribed on a plaque and placed on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Museum at Eldridge Street

Initially opened in 1887, The Museum at Eldridge Street is located in the Eldridge Street Synagogue, a magnificent National Historic Landmark. Today it is one of the only remaining historical sights related to early eastern European migration to America. The Museum offers year-round tours, exhibitions, cultural events and educational programs; detailing Jewish immigrant life and its historical roots to New York.

Congregation Shearith Israel

The Congregation Shearith Israel – often called The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue – is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. It was established in 1654 in New Amsterdam by Jews who arrived from Dutch Brazil. Until 1825, when Jewish immigrants from Germany established a congregation, it was the only Jewish congregation in New York City.

The Orthodox synagogue, which follows the Sephardic liturgy, is located on Central Park West at 70th Street, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The congregation has occupied its current Neoclassical building since 1897. 

The first group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews were twenty-three refugees from Dutch Brazil, who arrived in New Amsterdam in September 1654. After being initially rebuffed by anti-Semitic Director of New Netherland Peter Stuyvesant, Jews were given official permission to settle in the colony in 1655. This year marks the founding of the Congregation Shearith Israel. Although they were allowed to stay in New Amsterdam, they faced discrimination and were not given permission to worship in a public synagogue for some time (throughout the Dutch period and into the British). The Congregation did, however, make arrangements for a cemetery beginning in 1656.

It was not until 1730 that the Congregation was able to build a synagogue of its own; it was built on Mill Street (now William Street) in lower Manhattan. The Mill Street synagogue was said to have had access to a nearby spring which it used as a mikveh for ritual baths. Before 1730, as noted on a 1695 map of New York, the congregation worshipped in rented quarters on Beaver Street and subsequently on Mill Street. Since 1730 the Congregation has worshipped in five synagogue buildings; the current building was extensively refurbished in 1921.

As the American Reform Judaism made headway in the late 19th century, many rabbis critical of the Reform movement looked for ways to strengthen traditional synagogues. Shearith Israel, and its rabbi, Henry Pereira Mendes, were at the fore of these efforts. Rabbi Mendes cofounded the American Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in 1886, in order to train traditional rabbis. The school held its first classes at Shearith Israel. In JTS’ earliest days, it taught and researched rabbinics similarly as was done in traditional yeshivas, in contrast to the Reform Hebrew Union College.

Twelve years later, in 1896, Mendes was acting president of JTS. He promoted the formation of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (commonly known as the OU, the Orthodox Union). This synagogue umbrella group provided an alternative to the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

As JTS grew, it needed better financing and a full-time head. The seminary moved to its own building, and Mendes was replaced by Solomon Schechter. However, Schechter developed a less traditional approach, which became the basis for Conservative Judaism (called Masorti outside North America). Initially there was considerable cooperation between the Orthodox and Conservative groups but, over time, the divide became clearer.

Schechter formed the United Synagogue of America (now the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, or USCJ) to promote synagogue affiliation with his conservative ideology.

Shearith Israel remained aligned with the Orthodox tradition. It eventually repudiated its association with JTS. In a sense, Shearith Israel helped create three of the largest and most significant Jewish religious organizations in the United States: JTS, the OU, and USCJ. Shearith Israel remains a member only of the Orthodox Union.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

The deadliest disaster to strike New York until the 9/11 attacks, 90 years later, was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster. The Brown Building stands as a monument to the 146 Jewish and Italian immigrants killed by a massive fire and locked doors and is both a National Historic Landmark and a New York City Landmark.

Currently, The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition educates the public about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire through its ongoing projects, educational outreach, and its social media presence. It also supports the annual remembrance activities on the anniversary of the fire on March 25 and is in the works of establishing a permanent memorial for those who lost their lives on the site.

Congregation Ohab Zedek

Congregation Ohab Zedek, or OZ, as it is fondly known, is more than just a synagogue. Under the leadership of Rabbi Allen Schwartz, the Shul is known for its open doors and big heart. OZ has broad ties with the surrounding Jewish community and its Upper West Side neighborhood as a whole. A random visitor could easily encounter an up and coming scholar from Israel, or members of the local fire station. It is an informal, comfortable, inclusive community.

OZ is a modern Orthodox congregation, but any individual is welcome, regardless of background or means. It is a Shul of interlocking communities–young families who find a relaxed setting on Shabbos morning to introduce their toddlers to services; singles, who famously crowd the steps on Friday night; and seniors, many of whom have been members of OZ for decades. It is home to those tentatively exploring Judaism as well as the most learned, who are stimulated by a broad array of lecturers and classes.

Tenement Museum

At a time when issues surrounding migrants, refugees, and immigration have taken center stage, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is a potent reminder that, as a nation shaped by immigration, our brightest hope for the future lies in the lessons of the past.

Our mission is to foster a society that embraces and values the role of immigration in the evolving American identity through guided tours; curriculum and programs for secondary and post-secondary educators; stories, primary sources and media shared on our website; and interactive online experiences such as Your Story, Our Story, podcasts and more.

Jewish Tercentenary Monument

In 1654, fearing oppression by the Portuguese who had recently conquered the Dutch settlement of Recife, Brazil, Jews living there set off for the Netherlands. However, rather than arriving safely in Amsterdam, one of the 16 ships carrying them was blown off course and robbed by pirates. The 23 survivors were picked up by a French ship heading to Canada and left off in New Amsterdam, as New York was then known.

In 1954, to mark the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Jews in North America, observations were held in many cities. Rabbi Ferdinand M. Isserman of Temple Israel formed a St. Louis committee to erect a suitable monument in Forest Park. The resulting sculpture was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1956.

Created by Danish-born Carl C. Mose, head of the Sculpture Department at Washington University, the monument features a flagpole with a wave-like limestone base. Depicted on the base are Biblical quotations relating to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms”: freedom from tyranny; of religion; from fear and war; and from want. Among other figures, a ship, symbolic of that which bore the refugees to New Amsterdam, is also represented.

In 1989, renovation of the monument was undertaken at the request of Forest Park Forever. Civic leader Howard Baer, then 87 and the sole living member of the original 1954 committee, chaired the fundraising effort and engaged Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum as architects for the project. The sculpture was raised up on a pedestal of nine steps and lighting, benches and sidewalks were added to Lopata Plaza surrounding the monument — named in honor of major contributors Lucy and Stanley Lopata. Ted and Nancy Koplar donated the fountains on the west side of the monument

Merwedeplein

Merwedeplein is the housing complex where Anne Frank and her family lived before going into hiding in the annex. Anne Frank did mention Merwedeplein in her diary, but it was never a tourist attraction until a Frank family plaque was placed in front of the door where she was living (house number 37). On the western side of the square you will also find an approximately life-sized, bronze statue of Anne Frank. Visitors say that the best way to reach Merwedeplein is by taking tram number 4 from central station to the Waalstraat stop.  From there it is just a two minute walk to the Merwedeplein.