The Immigrant Jew in America

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The Russian Jew in Philadelphia*
by Charles S. Bernheimer, Ph.D.

* - From "The Immigrant Jew in America"-- issued by the National Liberal Immigration League, New York City, 1907.
Also included in earlier 1905 edition of "The Russian Jew in the United States."

There is something picturesque in the appearance of the streets in the southem aeetion of the city, though it may not be necessarily attractive to the native who sees but the squalor and the dirt that are part of the picture which forms itself in the localities where the several nationalities and races are congregated. The lower portion of the city contains fairly well-defined groups,--Russian Jews, Italians, negroes, besides native Americans, Irish, Germans, and people from Slavic countries, such as Russian, Poles, Lithuanians, and Hungarians, which add to the variegated charaeter of the assembly of nations in the city.

The district to which I shall confine myself chiefly includes the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh Wards of the city of Philadelphia. The area of these six wards is 2.322 square miles, and, as the total area of the city is 129.583 square miles, the district is about one­fiftieth of the entire surface of the city. The population of these six wards is 165,385, aeeording to the census of 1900. The population of the city is 1,293,697. We have, then, one-eighth of the people of the city in an area which is but one-fiftieth of the city. The Third Ward is the most densely populated in the city, the number of persons inhabiting it being 24,693, and as its area is but .191 square mile, this is an average of 129.282 persons to the square mile.

 An inquiry into the Russian-Jewish population enables me to assume 55,0001 as the number. This is deduced from the figures as to the number of Jewish children attending the public schools. The number in schools of the section bounded by Spruce Street on the north, Moore Street on the south, the Delaware River on the east, and Nineteenth Street on the west, is 11,686 out of a total of 21,515 pupils.

The negro population of these lower wards is 18,000 in round numbers, aeeording to the United States Census statistics. The Italians are assumed to number 28,000, according to the Census. The Christiana from Slav countries may number between 5,000 and 10,000. The remainder of 50,000 are Irish, German and native American.

When the Russian Jewish People first came here, as a consequence of the persecutions, they settled in dwellings in the lower section, beeause rents were as cheap there as anywhere. With relatives and friends coming year after year, and with natural accretions, the population grew and grew until now it has become a fair proportion of the southeastem section of the city. It has supplanted not only the German Jewish and Polish Jewish population, which was originally in this section, but it has swarmed into Pine and Spruce Streets, formerly oooupied by old Philadelphia families. It has, in some cases, made the streets more respectable and less dangerous morally. It has even, in some instances, displaced Italians, just as Italians have displaced some native-born and others of foreign nationalities in sections immediately west of the Jewish portions. Some of the well-to-do Jews are in the northem portion of the section on Spruce and Pine Streets. Lombard is lower­grade, especially because of its mixture with the lower-class negroes. South Street is a bee-hive of business activity among the Jewish people. Parts of Bainbridge Street are similarly active. From Fitzwater down, for several blocks, we find a dividing line at Fifth and Sixth Streets, west of which are Italians and east of which are Russian Jews. Below Christian the groupings are less distinct. The Jewish population has, however, gradually moved down so that some may be found as far south as Moore Street. Some well-to-do families have moved to Wharton Street and streets running north and south in the neighborhood. Of the north and south streets, Fourth contains the most thickly settled Jewish population. Large numbers may be found all the way from Spruce to Reed. Second and Third also contain a large Jewish population, especially between Pine and Wharton. On Fifth Street, too, it is similarly predominant as far as Washington Avenue, and on Sixth Street as far as Fitzwater. Immediately west of the northern portion of the Jewish section are numerous negroes, and southwest is the section predominantly Italian.

In the northern portion of this down-town district the Jewish people mingle with the left-overs of Americans. On Spruce Street they are with the so-called better element of the Americans. On Bainbridge Street the Italians begin to take a share. On Fitzwater Street the Italians become more emphatic in their claim for attention by virtue of their numbers. At Sixth and Fitzwater Streets the Jews and Italians may be said to battle for supremacy as to numbers. From this corner, west and south, Italians are settled in in thick numbers. The main streets they inhabit in this neighborhood are Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth, from Fitzwater Street to Washington Avenue, including Catharine, Christian and Carpenter, besides a number of smaller streets and alleys. At Fifth and Carpenter Streets the Italians again meet the Jewish people, who are preponderant east of this point. Sometimes a block is inhabited in its outer boundaries by one nationality chiefly, and in the streets within by another.

In the lower wards on the Delaware River front, besides Irish and American, there are probably at least two thousand persons from Slavic countries, chiefly Poles, but also some Hungarians and Lithuanians. These are largely in a block bounded by Lombard Street on the north, Carpenter Street on the south, the Delaware River on the east, and Third Street on the west.

The Jewish population has spread north as well as south. Along Second Street particularly has there been a movement north. For a distance of two miles there have been streams formed in a narrow line along the eastern side of the city. This is indicated, for example, by the population around Second and New Market Streets, details of whose housing and sanitary conditions are given in the study devoted to this subject.1  So, too, there are clusters around Second and Poplar Streets. There is also a settlement in Richmond in the northeastern portion of the city.

Jewish children attend the public schools in large numbers; no nationality down-town is more appreciative of the public school system. The result is most gratifying to our educational system, and to the adaptability and intellectual ability of the Jewish population. The public night schools are supplemented by private schools in the teaching of the immigrant populations. Meetings, lectures, and discussions held under the auspices of literary societies, beneficial organizations and charitable institutions of one sort or another, help fill out the intellectual life of the Jewish people.

The intellectual ferment among the Russian Jewish population finds no counterpart among the other nationalities. The educational activities initiated or responded to by them are much less prominent.

A valuable element of the religious life of the orthodox portion of the Jewish community is the synagogue. Some of the congregations worship in halls or rooms, others in buildings of their own.2 To the list of orthodox Jewish congregations should be added the Congregation Israel, at Fifth and Pine Streets, started from without and intended for the less orthodox young people with a service in Hebrew and English, and an Engliah sermon.

From the religious to the social life is not so far a cry as may be thought, for with the older people the synagogue is the social centre, and many social celebrations still occur in connection with holidays and ceremonies. Social functions of a public character are balls, Russian tea parties, small dances, and musical entertainments given by one or another of the societies.  

Whatever cases of charity among the Jewish people are not taken care of by any organization, are referred to the United Hebrew Charities. When the immigrant first arrives here, if he needs immediate aid or advice, the agent of the Association of Jewish Immigrants directs him. The Sheltering Home, a Russian Jewish institution, may keep him for a few days. Then the employment bureau of the Hebrew Charities, or the Baron de Hirsch Fund is brought into play, and he is found work. Later, he, or his family, may require the services of the hospital, the orphan asylum, or the burial society. All are provided for. It is still true that Jews do not become public charges as the result of dependency.

There is probably no nationality less prone to serious crime than the Jewish. It is true, we see evidences of juvenile delinquency among the immigrant portion of this nationality, and the problem with reference to this is grave, but as the conditions which have permitted it to develop are to a considerable extent due to the city environment of the children, to bad housing and street influences, to the absence of sufficient play space, one remedy lies along the lines of improving these conditions, which, with the greater adaptability of the parents and the people of the neighborhoods, as they continue here, will modify the evils.

The Russian Jewish population is, then, a very important element of the southern section of the city in point of numbers. Its social and economic relations need not be further considered in this place. There can be little question of its activity and progress along various lines, not only as compared with other nationalities, in the lower section of the city, but with the population generally.

1 The method of the English Educational Department to ascertain the number of children of school age is to divide the population b six. This is applied by H. Llewellyn Smith, in Booth's "Life and Labor of the People," Vol. III, p. 106. Notwithstanding the efforts of truant officers and others interested in the education of children, the actual school attendance for various reasons, never reaches the total of children of school age, but though it may approximate it more closely with Jewish children than with most other classes, in all but the higher grades, we cannot absolutely accept the multiple of six to obtain the population as other elements vary in the public school conditions between this country and Great Britain. Factors which must be considered are the greater size of the Russian Jewish families on the one hand and, on the other, the greater number of adults in the immigrant population, some of whom would not be accounted for in a calculation based merely on school attendance. However, these two factors in a measure neutralize each other. In our statement of more than 11,000 Jewish school children, we unquestionably have a large majority of the children between the age of three and thirteen. We must, in addition, account for all under the first and over the second, apart from those not attending school. Let us arbitrarily assume that the school children are, in a proportion, approximately one-fifth of the Jewish population of the district. This will make the total about 55,000. There are probably 15,000 Russian Jews in other sections of the city, making 70,000 out of a total of approximately 100,000 Jews.

2 There were 1,294 persons in the district investigated, of which 606, nearly half, were Jews. The total number of families was 239, of which 100 were Jewish. The total number of houses inspected was 179, in 73 of which the occupants were predominantly Jewish.

3 The location of congregations is an index of the localities inhabited by the population. Starting with the most northern among the down-town congregations they may be enumerated as follows:

Beth IsraeI, 417 Pine Street.
B'nai Zion
, 532
Pine Street.
es Israel Anshe Zitomir, 620 Addison Street.
B'nai Jacob, Fifth Street, abo
ve Lombard.
Kesher Israel, 421 Lombard Street.

B'nai Abraham Anshe Russia, 521 Lombard Street.
Agudas Achim, 514 S. Third Street.

Shomre Shaboth, 518 S. Third Street.
Israel Oheb Sholem,  S. E. Cor. Fifth and Gaskill Streets.
nai Reuben, Sixth and Kater Streets.
avas Chesed Anshe Shavel, 222 Bainbridge Street.
nai Joseph, 525 Bainbridge Street.
avas Achim Anshe Nazin, 754 S. Third Street.
Gomel C
hesed Shel Emes, 314 Catharine Street.
was Zion, 815 S. Fourth Street.
ependent Chevra Kadisho,
408 Christian Street.
i Israel, 922 S. Fourth Street.
Poel Zodak Seerus lsrael, 1021 S. Fifth Street.







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