The Bronx is deeply rooted in Jewish culture. From the beginning of the 19th century, Jewish values have permeated the story of the Bronx. This rich history has inspired the founding of the Bronx Jewish Historical Initiative (BxJHI), a program in partnership with the Bronx Borough President.
BxJHI is an interactive, volunteer-led community organization committed to sharing the rich history of the Jewish community in the Bronx, focusing on exploring, compiling, recording and sharing these historic values with the greater community and on keeping the Jewish history of the Bronx alive. Using forums, social media, special events and exhibits, the organization’s commitment to preserving historical information about the Bronx Jewish community is maintained. Marti Michael, volunteer-at-large, said, “At one time, the Bronx had more Jewish residents than the State of Israel. So much of the history of the Jewish Bronx has not yet been recorded and preserved. The BxJHI is designed to do just that: explore the place the Jewish community held in the growth of this beautiful borough, find those who can tell personal stories about that past and preserve these memories for the future.”
Through a number of programs, the Jewish historic ties to the Bronx are celebrated. One of these initiatives is the Bronx Jewish Hall of Fame, a program that recognizes Jewish leaders from the Bronx who have made extraordinary contributions to their fields. This program was first instituted in 2015 and a second class will be inducted on June 7. In 2015, honorees included actor/comedian Robert Klein, former New York State attorney general and Bronx borough president Robert Abrams, Jewish women’s activist Blu Greenberg, playwright Cynthia Ozick and eldercare leader and president of RiverSpring Health Daniel Reingold.
The organization is also focused on giving Jewish tours of the Bronx. This program, also instituted in 2015 with an inaugural visit to the Jewish Grand Concourse, continues into 2016 with bus and bicycle tours of the Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and former Jewish neighborhoods throughout the borough. Michael said, “As the BxJHI began to sponsor its first events, we were delighted by the response of the Jewish community, both current and former Bronxites. Our first tour of the Grand Concourse had 28 seats available on the Bronx Trolley [and] we had a waiting list of more than 100 people after we filled the seats! More tours are planned for this spring.”
The historic preservation of the Bronx Jewish community is a core component of the BxJHI initiative. Working in tandem with college students and professors, memories of Jewish Bronx are being preserved through interviews with residents of Coop City, the Sholem Aleichem houses, the Amalgamated Houses and the Workmen’s Circle. The stories will be captured and posted on the BxJHI website, an interactive virtual locale for Bronx Jewish residents past and present to share experiences. The website can be reached at thebronxjewish.org. As Michael explained, the website “is designed to be not only informative, but also interactive, allowing Bronxites from around the world to add their stories and photos to the site. We are still developing full interactivity, and are excited to be working on this tool to bring the Jewish Bronx alive to everyone, wherever they reside now.”
A commitment to the Yiddish language is also a focus of the BxJHI. Special events are hosted that celebrate Yiddish film. An upcoming screening of the Overture to Glory film in Yiddish will air at CSAIR, 475 W250th Street on March 20 at 2 p.m.
Other upcoming events via the BxJHI include the bike or bus tour of the Lost Synagogues of the Bronx, focusing on the Grand Concourse ($20/person or $30/couple for the bike tour; $25/person or $40/couple for the bus tour). The bike tours will be held at May 1 at 10 a.m., May 22 at 10 a.m. or June 26 at 10 a.m. The bus tour will be held at May 1 at 10 a.m.