Thursday, July 12, 2007

No Longer the 1890s

This week saw the closing of a Lower East Side kosher establishment. Joanna Smith Rakoff of Nextbook went down with her trusty digital voice recorder to take in the final hours of challah, cookies and other kosher goodies. After 90 years of serving the Jewish community, Gertel’s Bakery closed its doors.

One of the people on interviewed on the podcast, sounding to be middle aged, gave his opinion of the situation: progress is progress. With a very rudimentary analysis he said that the space that Gertel's occupied for the past century was worth more in real estate than in cookies. (No kidding) But what about the community?

As hipsters and Jews (and some hipster Jews) flock to the 10x10 box apartments on the Lower East Side, they are looking for the community that was there so many years ago. It is a nostalgic renaissance, people will want to live in the new condos, but they can do that anywhere. These tight jean wearing, slip-on shoe sporting, tote bag wilding folks want to walk in the "tenement" life-style but with a door man.

The Forward published a piece this week from a leading thinker of this nostalgic renaissance, Tony Michels. In the piece Michels calls the Forward, the leading left-leaning Yiddishist voice in the Jewish world, to "come home" to the Lower East Side. There is a rich history, Michels say. People take tours of the Lower East Side and need to see that the history is still alive, he calls to the socialist paper.

But what Michels and to some extent Smith Rakoff are missing here is that while our history is very important, it is the past. A majority of the Jewish community not only doesn't live on the Lower East Side, but they won't want to if they could. Most people, when able, like to move up in society and the Jews no exception. The over priced real estate in the City is stupid. Why pay nearly one million dollars to live is a smaller place in a dirty neighborhood like the LES when you could play less and live in a larger house just outside the city (or on the UWS or even the Park Slope); arguably there is a stronger Jewish community in the suburbs.

Now I am not one to say progress unabated is a good thing, but we also need to know when nostalgia for an earlier time is pulling us to Ludlow Street instead of a real need. Is it important to live and work there as Jewish people and organizations? I don't think so. Is is sad that Gertel's closed before I had one of the little challahs that was described in the podcast? Absolutely. But if it wasn't for that podcast produced by a Jewish cultural organization well above Delancy, I never would have heard about any of this. Is the cultural of neighborhood something we, as the American Jewish community, is looking for? Or does it need to stay alive for the very few living in another time? Good thing we are all able to blog about this...


Annie said...

It's sad when landmarks close, but if people really cared about it as a business (instead of a symbol) they would have been patronizing it regularly, perhaps forestalling the need to shut its doors.

Liberal Jew said...

not for this area...there was no way the price of Real Estate in the are could have been checked by the sale of baked goods. It is still sad.

Anonymous said...

FYI: If you take a look at their site, Nextbook isn't actually situated "well above Delancey." It's on lower Lafayette Street, not all that far from the old Gertel's site.