SEVERAL buildings in the Lower East Side bear Stars of David. The Lower East Side was originally known as Kleindeutschland, or “Little Germany.” After the General Slocum steamboat disaster in June 1904 in which over 1000 people died — many from the neighborhood — the Lower East Side Germanic community was devastated. Germans later regrouped further uptown in areas such as Yorkville in the East 80s. The stars can be seen on buildings uptown but by far their greatest concentration is in the Lower East Side.
As anti-Semitic oppression gripped Europe and a series of pogroms raged, Jews emigrated to the United States in the thousands, at first obtaining jobs as peddlers and salesmen, in slaughterhouses and the “needle trade”, and occupied tenements in the Lower East Side, originally flimsily constructed wood frame buildings that were sloppily divided into many apartments, later by brick buildings without boilers, hence the term “coldwater flats.” Porous, cold, and firetraps as well, the typical 19th-century tenements were dirty, unsanitary and dangerous places to live. Nonetheless, they were homes to countless thousands.
In the case of buildings at 137-139 East Broadway, 47 Orchard Street and 14-16 Orchard Street (just off Canal, shown here) we know that the Stars of David were placed there by the buildings’ developers, Peter and Francis Herter, specifically to attract Jewish immigrants. Those buildings likely went up around 1890. The Herter brothers also designed the famed Eldridge Street Synagogue. Raised stone circles around each star signify the Biblical twelve tribes of Israel.
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