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“From the Corners of the Earth” by Bill Aron (Part 1)

September 18, 2009

Book Excerpt: From the Corners of the Earth by Bill Aron (Part 1)

Hello and happy Friday to you, PhotoEdit blog readers! Mike here once again with another post full of intriguing images, insider information, and other vaguely clever uses of alliteration. Today PhotoEdit is glad to announce the return of our popular Book Excerpts series. Our new author is Bill Aron, who has been with the agency for many years and has an amazing eye for catching special, personal moments on film. He has been kind enough to allow us to post some excerpts and images from his book From the Corners of the Earth, an exploration of Jewish culture around the world in the 1970s and 1980s. In this first installment, Bill discusses his travels and experiences in the Lower East Side of New York City from 1974 to 1984 and presents stunning photographs that convey the Jewish spirit and traditions.

Rabbi Eisenbach works on a massive scroll in the Lower East Side of New York City.

The Lower East Side of New York City is an important landmark in the life of the American Jew. It was, in its time, the source of a variety of Jewish cultural institutions: yeshivot, synagogues, Yiddish newspapers and theaters, as well as the restaurants and coffee houses depicted in the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer.

The Lower East Side was one of the principal areas of settlement for Jews as they immigrated to this country. By the turn of the century it contained the largest Jewish community in the world.

In its heyday, East Broadway was a kind of Jewish promenade where a revered generation of artists, entertainers, politicians, businessmen, and intellectuals flourished. The neighborhood was bustling and vibrant, full of immigrants from many lands working to attain the American dream, or, at least, hoping that their children would. The whole range of Jewish life could be found there, from the pious Hasidim to the socialist Bundists, from the artists and scholars to the entrepreneurs.

Tiferet Yerushalayim Yeshiva reads a manuscript in the Lower East Side of New York City.

For many Jews, however, the Lower East Side was only a stopping place. Financial success was usually followed by a move away from the old neighborhood. Irving Berlin, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Jacob Javits, and David Sarnoff are but a few of those who came out of the Lower East Side. They started here, and when they began to “make it,” they left.

The neighborhood that remains bears testimony to the struggle of that first generation of Jewish immigrants. Hundred-year-old tenements still stand with their shabby ornaments and fire escapes. Practically every doorway shows the signs of a former mezuzah. On nearly every block stands the remains of at least one synagogue, many of them only shells of their former selves.

There is Seward Park, the place where thousands of Jewish workers celebrated May Day. Across the street from the park stands the old Forward building, once the home of the large Yiddish daily newspaper. Pushcarts with knishes and kosher food can still be found. People still come from all over the city to shop on Orchard Street and to buy religious articles, also stopping off for a supply of Gus’s extra sour pickles before returning home.

The Cheshinover Rebbe shops for food in the Lower East Side of New York City. Hasidim always seem to have stepped out of another century.

The ethnic composition of the Lower East Side is changing. Although the once-populous Jewish community is but a fraction of its former size, a young, modern Orthodox community has been slowly growing in the area around East Broadway. Several synagogues have been renovated in an effort to attract and hold on to these new residents. The number of social services has increased, and street festivals have inspired a new pride in both the old and the new residents of the Lower East Side.

There are many elderly Jews who either remain on the Lower East Side from immigrant times or have recently returned. In spite of the obvious difficulties of their circumstances, the old people fight to survive — not just to stay alive but also to remain strong and independent. Their spirit and their dignity are an inspiration.

For better or for worse, these old Jews are wedded to their neighborhood and are determined to stay. In my photographs, I have tried to capture and preserve their community.

Rabbi Eisenbach's son works on a manuscript in the Lower East Side of New York City.

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This concludes the first excerpt of From the Corners of the Earth by Bill Aron. We thank Bill for allowing us to offer these valuable and informative excerpts about Jewish culture. If you are interested in ordering From the Corners of the Earth or any of Bill’s other fantastic books, please visit his website by clicking here. To see Bill’s complete collection of worldwide multi-ethnic images on the PhotoEdit site, you can browse through his entire portfolio by clicking here.

Are you a photographer with an idea for a blog? Want to link-share with PhotoEdit? Looking to join our agency and make some money? Interested in the finer points of Imperial starship design? Email me and let’s talk!

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