The Bronx: once “the most Jewish borough”

When you think of Jews in New York, the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, and the Upper West Side come to mind.

But in the middle of the 20th century, the Bronx had more residents of Jewish descent than any other borough.

In 1930, about 49 percent of the Bronx was Jewish, according to the Bronx County Clerk’s Office, mostly centered in South Bronx neighborhoods and along the apartment houses of the Grand Concourse.

[Above: a daycare center today, but a synagogue decades ago on Crotona Park East]

A New York Times article put it at 37 percent in 1945; bronxsynagogues.org has the high at 57 percent in 1930 in the South Bronx.

“There were four synagogues organized within two blocks of Third Avenue before 1900 (before the elevated was completed in 1902). By 1910, thirteen had been organized in the same area and that constituted almost 40 percent of all the synagogues in the South Bronx.”

[Above: an abandoned synagogue at 1835 University Avenue]

After World War II, Bronx Jews split for the suburbs. The borough’s ethnic makeup quickly changed; by 1960, it was two-thirds Black and Hispanic.

[Right, an empty synagogue at 1650 Morris Park Avenue]

[All photos from bronxsynagogues.org]

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15 Responses to “The Bronx: once “the most Jewish borough””

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    The Cross Bronx Expressway had a lot to do with it, people just had to leave in the 1940s to make room for Moses’ stupid highway.

    • Upstate Ellen Says:

      Absolutely right. I think Moses had a lot to do with the decline of the “beautiful Bronx” where both my parents were raised.

  2. Norman Kabak Says:

    Our family moved from Boone Avenue because of the planned Cross Bronx Expressway in 1946. Driving down Bruckner Boulevard listening to the radio, some forty years later, came an announcement that the expressway was finally completed.

  3. Michael Says:

    I believe the last picture is the Mount Eden Center. The address was 1650 Morris Avenue, not Morris Park Avenue.

  4. Big Sis Says:

    Did you get these photos from Bronx Synagogues website? These are at least 20 years old. Mt Eden is gone, and the other place looks very different today.

  5. LiL "H" Says:

    The top picture is the Congregation Kehilath Israel. The address was 1594 Crotona Park East at 173rd Street. I believe it functions as day care/community center.

  6. Raanan Geberer Says:

    Just stumbled on your site. The idea that “Bronx Jews moved to the suburbs” is a myth. Most moved at first to Queens, Co-op City, Riverdale, and even “better” neighborhoods in the North Bronx, like Pelham Parkway. THEN, after that, some moved to the suburbs!

  7. Alex Ulrich Says:

    When people ask me where i’m from, I say with pride “DA’ BRONX”

  8. Welcome2TheBronx | JFK Lived Here & More Tidbits About The Bronx Says:

    […] home to more of the African diaspora than any other place in the city. At one point, we were also the most Jewish borough with over 50% of the population in that demographic. 70 years ago you were more likely to hear […]

  9. jeff g Says:

    when the Jews left the west Bronx (Grand Concourse) that part of the borough came crashing down. We can all sit “shiva” for that beautiful part of the Bronx that is no more!!

  10. Howard Rotblatt Says:

    The synagogue at 1835 University Avenue was the Hebrew Institute of University Heights, which housed a yeshiva called Akiba Hebrew Academy. Akiba merged with two other schools to form SAR in Riverdale. Additionally, many of the Jews abandoned the Grand Concourse when Co-op City was established.

  11. Hy Drusin Says:

    Bronx Jews spent decades moving north and west, escaping from advancing waves of poor, violent, African-Americans and Puerto Ricans. The “South Bronx” destroyed the middle-class, crime-free, Jewish Bronx, not Robert Moses’s Cross-Bronx Expressway.
    (The CBE didn’t make us move west — from Topping Ave, to Sheridan Ave, to Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Crime did!)

    The myth of “evil Robert Moses” was created in Robert Caro’s biography. Caro is an excellent writer, but a biased leftist. A recent essay by Phillip Lopate (Leonard’s brother), “Robert Moses Rethought”, argues that Moses did far more good than bad for the city.

    By the late, race-riot 60’s, most West Bronx Jews perched on or near the Grand Concourse “ridge”, surrounded by rising waves of minorities lapping up from the west (Highbridge) and the east. They fled to Co-op City when it opened in 1969 (only to later experience the same phenomenon) and the waves crested and met. Today, the only meaningful Jewish population left in the Bronx is on the high ground of hard-to-get-to, expensive Riverdale.

    However, in exchange for losing its Jews, the Bronx gained hip-hop, which was invented there in 1973. LOL

  12. “Bill Brooks” Says:

    I was born on the grand concourse in 1945. Moved away & returned to Walton ave by 161st st in 1963 where many of my relatives lived.
    I went to Roosevelt High School. It was a beautiful time to be from NYC & the Bronx. . I hung out at Poe Park off Fordham rd with some of the guys from Arthur ave, though I stayed mostly on the eastside of Manhattan. I loved the Bronx & had alot of friends. I live in Texas today, but wish I could go back to those days, because there was a lot of meaning in the words family, friendship & loyalty. Today those words don’t exist, at least in my opinion. The NYC culture I use to know continues to fade.
    Billly from the Bronx..

  13. Charles Wunderman Says:

    I was born on the Concourse in ’53. Lived in other parts of NYC and now live in England. Many forces conspired to ravage the Bronx – rigid rent control, lack of resident ownership (no co-ops or condos yet), shortage of larger apartments, too many buildings with no elevators (very difficult for shopping), lack of play space for kids once cars took over the streets, but also a general “culture” that said urban living = bad, suburban = good.

    Car culture had a lot to do with it. So did TV. Both took people off the streets and killed a lot of street life. Empty streets mean less safe streets.

    OK, maybe the Bronx would’ve declined without Robert Moses, his destructive Cross Bronx Expressway and his ill-conceived high-rise social housing projects. But the damage he did, in particular with that vile highway which literally tore a huge gash through the heart of the borough, cannot be overlooked.

    The path of destruction he caused didn’t begin with Robert Caro. And if it weren’t for urban warriors like Jane Jacobs who battled against Moses, much more of NYC might be buried under highway paving today.

  14. SANFORD GOLDBERG Says:

    SANDY GOLDBERG, SAYS: Everyone who commented has told the truth.

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