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Jews > Earning a Living > Decentralization of Jewish New York > Bris Milah > Shiva - Mourning in the Jewish Tradition

A sizeable Jewish community - mostly German - had established itself in New York City by the middle of the nineteenth century (see Germans). But they did not account for more than a small percentage of the city's population. After 1880, however, massive numbers of Jewish immigrants began arriving in New York City, this time from Eastern Europe (including Russia, Poland, Romania, and parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By 1916, 1.4 million New Yorkers (about 28% of the city's population) were Jewish.

Following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, Russia's five million Jews faced a fierce campaign of government sponsored anti-Semitism. Pogroms, mandatory army service, famine, cholera epidemics, and the general economic stagnation of the countryside drove them from their small villages and into the growing towns and cities of Germany, Russia, and Poland (Then under the control of Russia). And from there many left Europe completely. Approximately one-third of Eastern Europe's Jews emigrated between 1881 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Ninety percent of them came to America.

Because emigration from Russia was difficult for Jews, most of them first crossed the border into Germany or the Austro-Hungarian Empire before making their way to the North Sea ports. Then they used the same trans-Atlantic steamship lines, which had carried the Germans to America for decades before them. Nearly two million Eastern European Jews immigrated to America during the period 1881-1914, and most of them disembarked in New York City.

The Lower East Side
The Eastern European Jews tended to follow the Germans in their residential and occupational patterns. Almost three quarters of the Jews who came to New York before World War I first settled on the Lower East Side, moving into the old Kleindeutschland (see Map 4). By 1890 there were already 190,000 Jews living on the Lower East Side. By 1915, more than 320,000 made their home here accounting for nearly 60 percent of the neighborhood's population.

A wave of new tenements, mostly of the "dumb-bell" style (see Tenements), were built in the 1890s and rented to new comers. The Lower East Side became a small city in its own right. It had its own theater district (first on Grand Street and then on Second Avenue between Houston and 14th street), its own red-light district (on Allen Street under the Second Avenue El) and its own shops, marketplaces, newspapers, synagogues and language.

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