The Jewish Quarter
of Philadelphia

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IMMIGRATION - 1891 TO 1924


     Beginning in the winter of 1891, and throughout the following spring and summer, immigration increased dramatically into the United States and into Philadelphia. Typical of arrivals was that of Leon Kobrin, the future Yiddish author and playwright. Kobrin's ship docked at the "foggy port" of Philadelphia early in the morning of January 5, 1892. Although moored at the pier, the immigrants could not leave the ship until the doctor examined their arms for evidence of vaccination. With a mist upon the Delaware, the men put on their taleysim (prayer shawls) and tfiln (phylacteries) and began to pray. They shoklt zikh (rocked back and forth) and Kobrin tells us "prayed with great fervor." The women also rocked back and forth in prayer over sidurim (prayer books) and korbn-minkhes (the prayer book for Jewish women). The same spirit overcame the youngsters who earlier when the ship docked had run throughout the vessel screaming.

Front page of the Jewish Daily Forward, November 29, 1905.
"The Day of Mourning in Philadelphia"

     In the fall of 1892, immigration was temporarily halted because of the discovery of a few cases of typhus in the United States and an outbreak of cholera in Germany.53 At the end of that year immigration resumed but at reduced levels, and it remained fairly constant over the balance of the last decade of the 19th century. In the first year of the new century, Romanians in great numbers started the long trek to the Goldene Medine, and they were followed, after the Kishinev pogroms, by increased Russian Jewish immigration.

     News of the Kishinev pogroms drew the immigrants of the Jewish quarter in Philadelphia together for the first time. Mass meetings to aid the victims of the slaughter were hastily called. "The pathetic scenes enacted in the Kesher Israel Synagogue, Fourth and Lombard streets, last Sunday, when men and women arose in their seats and lamented the loss of parents and sisters and brothers, were repeated with distressing frequency."54 The lamentations were the first of many to come.

     On October 17, 1905 liberal elements in Russian society were strong enough to force the czar to issue a manifesto guaranteeing limited rights to the subjects of Russia.55 Stronger and better organized, another segment of the general population of Russia with ultraconservative ideas, the pogromschiks, determined that the czar had gone too far. They included Black Hundreds (members of a militant, anti-Semitic, quasi­military organization), the narod (workers and peas­ants), troops, police, hooligans, and recently released prisoners. They were embarrassed that the czar was forced to act against his will, horrified that the absolute authority of the czar had been challenged, and, as always, they were bent on slaughter.56 Spontaneously and as planned, wild mobs turned the full might of mayhem and butchery against the Jewish nation in Russia. During the last two weeks of October 1905, over six hundred pogroms took place, mostly in southern Russia. Although the death toll was not as high as it would be for the pogroms following World War I, word of the pogroms, coming so unexpectedly, produced a gloom over the city of Philadelphia and over all centers of Jewry throughout the world.

     Because the 1905 pogroms occurred mainly in southern Russia, and because a great part of the Russian Jewish population of Philadelphia came from that area, there was hardly a family in Philadelphia untouched by the murder and terror.58 Within two weeks after word of the pogroms reached Philadelphia, $55,000 was raised to send to Russia. The money came from Jew and Christian alike. Italians and Hungarians, as well as other nationalities, gave generously. The horror of the pogroms touched all, from the mayor on down. On one day, more than one hundred meetings were held in Philadelphia for the purpose of raising additional funds for the thousands of victims. Jews met at Emunas Israel-Oheb Sholem; Judge Mayer Sulzberger addressed a huge gathering at Kesher Israel. Mass meetings were held at B'nai Reuben, New Auditorium Hall, and other halls and synagogues in the Jewish quarter.

     Two weeks later the gloom of the city was given expression in a march of mourning. On Wednesday, November 29, 1905, Philadelphia witnessed what was described in the Press as "perhaps the saddest sight which has ever been seen in the streets of this city and one which made the profoundest sort of an impression on those who gathered to see it pass."59 Ten thousand men and women, each with a black flag in hand, marched under great banners of dull black. In a line that formed on S. 3rd Street near Bainbridge, the march began. A band accompanied the marchers and played "unspeakably sad, minor harmonies." Although it rained all day, some of the older women had no head covering and only scant protection for their feet. At 4th and Catharine Streets labor unions joined. Small black flags hung from almost every house in the Jewish streets. The mourners proceeded to Pennsylvania Hall at 6th & Carpenter Streets, where over two thousand Zionists joined. The music of the Zionists and a self-defense society band spoke of revolt. And the march continued. From there it went through the Italian quarter. The Italians crowded on the sidewalks of their narrow streets to watch the men, women, and children pass by. Many of the Italians, after the custom of their country, doffed their hats as the symbols of mourning were carried by. In the center of the parade was a chorus of forty men who at intervals sang folk songs of Russia. "At times the effect was like a great organ, and the quiet which prevailed on the streets was like that of a vast cathedral."60

     The victims of the pogroms and their families began to stagger into every part of Philadelphia where Russian Jews lived. This was not a migration. This was a veritable flight. They came, not as before in ones and twos, but as whole families, not wanting to leave anyone behind. By 1908, the Russian colonies of Philadelphia were overflowing with recent arrivals. And still they came, by the thousands.61 The emigration of Leon Boonin and his young sisters and brothers into the port of Philadelphia is typical of this period of heavy immigration.62 In 1910, the children had been left orphans in Russia and wished to be united with two older brothers in Philadelphia, Mendell and Abraham. The brothers in Philadelphia sought the advice of Isadore Joseph Cooper, confidant, advisor, and ticket agent who had offices near the Washington Avenue immigrant station on Pier 53.

     Cooper assured the family safe passage and arrival. As part of his service, Cooper wrote letters of introduction. This is the letter that Cooper mailed to the family of Mendell and Abraham in Russia (Linderman is not further identified):

My dear Mr. Linderman:

Kindly see that the bearers of this note are well cared for during their voyage. They are orphans and are bound to an uncle and two brothers, which relatives are personal friends of mine. Any courtesy shown them will be greatly appreciated by yours truly

T. J. Cooper

     Cooper suggested that the family travel in the summer, as winter crossings of the Atlantic were not favored, especially for young children. He urged that tickets be bought for a sailing direct from Hamburg so that the North Sea did not have to be crossed in a smaller vessel. The family did travel in the summer, but did not take Cooper's advice concerning the North Sea passage and paid dearly, as they crossed to Grimsby, England, in rough weather on a small boat ­all very sick. The family's tickets were via Liverpool, England, to Philadelphia on the American Line. Mendell and Abraham believed that a direct sailing from Hamburg might mean a landing in New York and an examination at Ellis Island, something the family wanted to avoid, if possible. One of the children had a limp, and it was feared, based on rumors in the immigrant community, that an examination at Ellis Island would be more strict. Many favored inspections at immigrant stations other than Ellis Island63 In his
Memoirs, Leon wrote:

     We reached Hull, England [in the beginning of August, 1911] and traveled by train to Liverpool. There we were obliged to load our own baggage into large express wagons because of a strike of the longshoremen. Some of our baggage was very heavy. We had two large sacks each of which required two men to handle, and also a number of heavy suitcases. We were all taken, together with our baggage, and brought to a poor section of the city and deposited in a large courtyard shaped like a horseshoe with only one large entrance gate. The large yard was paved with cobble stones, the buildings were old and had corrugated iron awnings in front of them, which gave the whole place a dreary and shab­by appearance.

While in Liverpool, shipping officials tried to get the immigrants to sail to the port of New York (because a strike then in progress affected sailings to Philadelphia) but Leon, and most of the Philadelphia­bound immigrants, would not change their minds. Within several weeks, however, the strike was settled and the six brothers and sisters boarded the S.S. Dominion of the American Line, bound for Philadelphia.

After an exhilarating voyage, the younger children had free run of one of the decks and their older brothers and sisters met members of the opposite sex unsupervised on moonlit decks,

     ... [w]e entered the Delaware River early in the morning and were sailing up it all day. Everyone was on deck and all were in good spirits. The sight of land and the realization that we were, at last, approaching our goal, served as a tonic to our strained nerves. We were now in a holiday mood and all very talkative. My own knowledge of the geographic location of Philadelphia was very poor and I kept wondering why we were traveling so long in sight of land and had not as yet reached port. This, together with my subdued anxiety of our approaching final contact with the immigration authorities, somewhat dampened my spirits.


     The S. S. Dominion docked at the foot of Washington Avenue late in the afternoon and the immigrants, after an inspection conducted on board ship, began to disembark. Families with questionable entrance credentials were made to wait. Darkness fell, inspections stopped, the anchor was raised, and the ship made for the open river. Leon wrote:


Again we felt greatly disturbed and disappointed. The fact that many of our immigrant passengers were already admitted gave those of us who now remained on board a feeling of sadness and jealousy mixed with fear; and no matter how we all tried to maintain our composure, that sullen feeling prevailed. I was especially disturbed at the thought that the day's excitement might affect the children's sleep and cause them to appear tired and, in particular that their eyes might not be fully rested when confronted with the immigration examiners.


The next morning the ship again was docked at the Washington Avenue landing. Leon was on deck early. He felt much cheered as a man who introduced himself as the person delegated by Mendell and Abraham to go over the immigration process contacted him.

     Everything went smoothly, however, and the children were admitted. Leon concluded the story:

We disembarked at Front and Washington Avenues and joined Mendell, Abe., Uncle Goldberg and Fanny who were awaiting for us. After the exchange of greetings we all marched on foot up Washington Avenue to Fifth Street, and up Fifth Street to Carpenter Street where Uncle Goldberg and his family lived. There we spent part of the afternoon and proceeded by streetcar to our new residence at Seventh and Snyder Avenue where brother Abe. had his drug store.

Until the very beginning of World War I, shtetl Jews continued to make plans to leave Eastern Europe as they had for almost two generations, but the war immediately choked off immigration. After four long years of battle, much of it fought in the heartland of Polish and Russian Jewry, the war ended - but not for the Jews. In the month of November 1918 there were pogroms of varying dimensions in hundreds of towns and townlets in Poland. Shops were plundered, houses looted, synagogues desecrated, and Jews assaulted and killed.64 Pogroms broke out in Lemberg, Przemysl, Kielce, Brzesko, and Chrzanow. On November I11, 1918, World War I ended, but for the Jews of Poland pogroms erupted that same day after the authorities disarmed the Jewish militia.65

     Regular ocean transportation of passengers was not immediately resumed after the war's end, but of more immediate concern to east European Jewry was overcoming the difficulties of leaving Poland and the newly forming Soviet Union. At this time immigration into the United States remained basically unrestricted, but Jews of the former Russian Empire who wanted to leave faced terrifying obstacles in the lands of their birth.66 What was the reaction in Philadelphia to the pogroms in Poland? An editorial in the Public Ledger stated: "Civilization will be a mockery and democracy a delusion so long as any nation tolerates or permits the sort of treatment which has been meted out to the Jews of Poland." Outrage was expressed that such things could happen. Very little public outrage in Philadelphia, however, was aimed directly at the Poles themselves. Convinced that no more could be done, the Jews of the city planned a march.

     On Monday, June 2, 1919, Jewish working men and women of Philadelphia were released from their jobs at noon. School children were dismissed after the morning session. Jewish businesses throughout the city closed. Hundreds of stores along South Street displayed cards explaining that they were closed because of the protest against the massacres in Poland. Men, women, and children gathered on S. 5th Street at Washington Avenue, for by that time the heart of immigrant Jewish Philadelphia was located south of Washington Avenue. And from Washington Avenue representatives of the Jewish population, under the general leadership of the Philadelphia Federation of Ukrainian Jews, gathered and reached south to McKean Street. Mourning garb was worn by all. Women wore black skirts, white waists (blouses) and crepe arm bands. Men were dressed in dark clothing. In uniform, recently discharged servicemen who had just returned from France was a were numerous, a surprised reporter for the Evening Bulletin wrote:

     "The number of soldiers, sailors and marines in the parade revelation of the contribution made by local Jews to the win­ning of the war. The veterans marched excellently, despite the heat. "67 Twelve hundred Jewish soldiers, sailors and marines marched together. Wounded veterans rode.

     A total of forty thousand Jews began to march up 5th Street through the old Jewish quarter. First came the veterans. Next, three thousand members of the "Ladies' Waistmakers Union," most probably the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, fol­lowed; and after them came representatives of three hundred lodges of Brith Sholom and two hundred lodges of the Arbeiter Ring (The Workmen's Circle). The Blue and White Flag of Zion was carried by hundreds of marchers.  Others bore American flags.68 (Additional organizations in the march are found in Appendix A.)

     Fifth Street from Washington Avenue to Walnut Street was jammed from curb line to house wall. From there the marchers wound their way to the Metropolitan Opera House on North Broad Street where speeches were made. The
Public Ledger reported that in none of the speeches was there a word of malice or ill feeling towards the hopes and aspirations of the new Polish republic. "The speakers simply demanded that the leaders of that state be made to understand that they could not expect to stand shoulder to shoulder with civilized nations in the new order of things so long as any minority under their government was to be subjected to murder and denied fundamental rights because of its religious professions."

THE DOORS CLOSE - 1919 TO 1924

     The movement of east European Jewry into the port of Philadelphia, halted for over four years by World War I, did not resume immediately. On January 30, 1919, the Haverford, identified by four masts and a "too outrageously tall" funnel, arrived at the foot of Washington Avenue on its first sailing after the armistice, carrying returning soldiers from Europe. On the next sailing from Brest, the Haverford, the solitary survivor of the American Line, carried 2,084 troops on board.70 Regular sailings resumed from Liverpool that year and in the summer the ship not only began bringing immigrants to the port of Philadelphia, it also brought war orphans and French brides.71

     Despite the per centum limit law of 1921, immigration continued unabated
into Philadelphia, but three years later the great movement of emigrants into the United States came to an end with the passage of the Quota Act of 1924.72 Summer sailings of the Haverford had to be cancelled and, although the Haverford did make a sailing in September, it was to be its last. On September 29, 1924, the last immigrant ship to bring passengers to the port of Philadelphia, the Canopic of the White Star Line, docked at the Washington Avenue Immigrant Station.73 Losing $35,000 on this sailing alone, the Canopic carried 127 cabin passengers, but only 91 steerage passengers. Regular emigrant passenger sailings into the port of Philadelphia were abandoned.

Forty-three years of immigration had split the east European Jewish community. Those that made it to the New World were more than geographically separated from those left behind. The American half of east European Jewry was to know relative prosperity and security in the years ahead, while European Jewry, often barred from leaving the countries of their birth and refused asylum by the world at large, was to know fear, darkness and death. The grand experiment in the United States was over. The doors were closed.74

     The immigrants settled around South Street and many opened shops there and on surrounding streets. Life was difficult but few would have traded places with their relatives in Eastern Europe. The years passed quickly. The 1920's were prosperous, a time to save a little money and perhaps move to one of the neighborhoods away from downtown. The stock market crash of 1929 did not hit the immigrants immediately, but the following year their world came crashing down.





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