The oldest Jewish service organization in the world began here on the Lower East Side, and this year celebrates a major milestone.
B’nai Brith International (“Sons of the Covenant”) – now in its 175th year – was founded on Essex Street in October 1843 by a dozen immigrants of German-Jewish descent.
Of course, at that time, the neighborhood looked vastly different. The recent arrivals’ inaugural meeting was at Aaron Sinsheimer’s ground-level cafe at 60 Essex Street, in what was then a three-story Federal-style brick building (under Seward Park Extension housing). Each founder lent the astronomical sum of $5 to start the club, whose primary goal was helping off-the-boat Jews adjust to their new lives in America. B’nai B’rith also would provide financial assistance to widows and orphans through insurance policies and various charities.
B’nai B’rith became a juggernaut early on. It went national, and membership swelled into the thousands by the end of the Civil War, with sixty-six lodges around the country. According to the official website, the group notched the following achievements:
If you stroll by the location today, it’s fairly easy to overlook the plaque dedicated by the city on the nation’s bicentennial (July 4, 1976). The honor is emblazoned on the perimeter wall of the Seward Park Extension.
And B’nai B’rith is now headquartered in Washington, D.C.
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