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Museum Home  Current Exhibitions ►► The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia

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                        The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia
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Arch Street Theatre

The Arch Street Theatre,
from a photo-engraving in
"The Delineator," September, 1923.

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The Jewish quarter of Philadelphia (1881) cannot be found on any map, but its borders are marked out in contemporary writings of the period. Stretching from Spruce Street on the north to Christian Street on the south, and from South 2nd to South 6th Streets on the east and west, the checkerboard quarter was the heart of immigrant Jewish Philadelphia for two generations. These borders, like all borders, changed as time passed; and, like all Jewish borders, they changed faster than most.

This exhibition offers a 'slice' of the history of the Jewish experience in Philadelphia, as illustrated below....

Portion of Poster of American Line

  Portion of Poster of American Line in Philadelphia, cir 1875. Courtesy of the Independence Seaport Museum, Philadelphia, PA.

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Eastern European Immigration and Settlement of the Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia

After the assassination of Alexander II, the czar of Russia, on March 1, 1881, mysterious emissaries of Alexander III, the new czar, appeared in the larger cities of southern Russia, and plans were carefully laid for pogroms to occur during Passover. Although the role played by Jews in the murder of Alexander II was insignificant at most, Jews nevertheless became the target of the new czar. The pogroms spread to Odessa, Kiev and hundreds of other towns and villages. Immediately Jews, especially the young, began to leave Russia in numbers. By September, Russian Jews began arriving at Castle Garden emigrant depot at the port of New York, and the next month the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society began shipping them to Philadelphia. In early November 1881, one hundred immigrants arrived in Philadelphia by train from New York.

Looking west on South Street from 4th

Looking west on South St. from 4th, Philadelphia, PA

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Immigrants at Work

East European Jewish immigrants exhausted most of what little money they had on the long journey to America. Some ran out of funds at the dock in Hamburg or Rotterdam and by the time they reached Liverpool, they had to borrow money. It was not uncommon for immigrants to arrive in Philadelphia with less than $25, all of it borrowed from fellow passengers who planned to settle in the City of Brotherly Love, most sought refuge with a relative.  Exhausted, the newly arrived immigrant was given a clean bed and the host-relative slept on the floor. In the morning the new arrival began to look for work.

Garrick Theatre

The Garrick Theatre,
1330 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA.


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The Yiddish Theatre

No matter how difficult life was in the sweatshop, no matter how little the family earned, money was found for the Yiddish theatre. The language was mameloshn (mother tongue, i.e. Yiddish) and life portrayed on the stage was followed with great intensity, the action drawing audible responses and comments from the audience as if they too were participants. The Philadelphia correspondent of the American Hebrew put it this way, describing the early Yiddish theatre in Philadelphia: "The grocers complain that less eatables are sold on account of the housewives and family being in a constant hurry and flutter to get in some time to the theatre, cheating their stomachs with dry cold lunches...."

Blitzstein building, 4th and Lombard Streets

Blitzstein building, northwest corner of 4th & Lombard Streets, 1959.
Courtesy of Urban Archives, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


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The Great Depression

Throughout the morning of Tuesday, December 23, 1930, and as a consequence of the closure of another bank the prior day, desperate immigrants ran to withdraw their life's savings from M. L. Blitzstein & Co., popularly known as the Blitzstein bonk, located on the northwest corner of 4th & Lombard Streets. The bank attempted to meet the demands for cash, but it could not do so. Early in the afternoon a small note was posted on the bank door: "Because of the unusually large withdrawal of deposits we are compelled to close our doors in order to protect the interests of the depositors." Immediately a crowd gathered outside. When asked if it was true, two policemen from the 3rd & Delancy Street station who were posted at the door nodded their heads and comforted the shocked depositors.


Germans march into town

The Germans march into town.
National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD


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The Holocaust

In the Fall of 1939, the Germans invaded Poland. Soon, the Nazis spread darkness and murder over the continent of Europe. At Philadelphia's Congregation Kesher Israel, young men volunteered or were drafted to serve their country. Meanwhile in Europe, the annihilation of the Jewish people was taking place.

When the war was over, the older generation searched desperately for information about family members in Europe.
Alter Blatt, the sexton and Torah reader at Kesher Israel who lived at 429 Gaskill Street, to the rear of the shul, searched for his large family.


29th IAJGS Conference
on Jewish Genealogy


Philadelphia, PA
Aug 2-7, 2009


Three New Exhibitions
Coming soon, to be found within the Museum 's many galleries through December 14, 2009.

  Rites of Passage

Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays

Zionism in Europe


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