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Places đź“Ť Lost Jewish Buffalo - shuls and cemeteries and neighborhoods, oh my! (56K oy!)

Dan

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No, we're not talking about a bison named Herschel, who roamed the plains in search of a good bagel. :j:

(First, a disclaimer. I'm not Jewish, so please excuse me if I get any terminology wrong.)

On April 17, the Jewish Community Center of Buffalo sponsored a bus tour of Buffalo's East Side, to visit some forgotten relics of the city's early 20th century Jewish community. The tour didn't cover everything, and there are some old shuls and other sites still standing that aren't in the photos below.

In 1900, the long-established German Jewish community was assimilated and living in middle-class and upper income West Side neighborhoods, while newly arriving Russian and Polish Jews settled in the city's traditional "zone of emergence" on the Lower East Side, centered on William Street and Jefferson Avenue. As they grew in affluence, many families bought homes in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, west of Humboldt Parkway.

The Jewish presence on Buffalo's East SIde dwindled in the 1950s. The "exodus" was caused by blockbusting and racial transition in Humboldt Park, and a massive neighborhood-clearing urban renewal project on the Lower East Side. Most Russian and Polish Jews moved to the North Park neighbotrhood in Buffalo, or new suburban neighborhoods to the north in Tonawanda.

Today, about 60% of Erie County's Jewish population live in Amherst. Most of the rest reside in the city's Delaware District, Elmwood Village and North Park neighborhoods, and the eastern end of the Town of Tonawanda.

The Jefferson Avenue Shul, also called Ahavas Sholem Synagogue, is located on the east side of Jefferson Avenue, north of William Street on Buffalo's Lower East Side. The congregation left the building in the 1950s, when urban renewal destroyed much of the Lower East Side. The shul was built in 1903, and is Buffalo's oldest standing former synagogue.

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Across the street from the Jefferson Avenue Shul is the former site of the Buffalo Jewish Community Center. The A.D. Price public housing project is in the background.

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The surrounding neighborhood today.

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Off of William Street.

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Redeveloped area near William Street on Buffalo's Lower East Side.

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A synagogue in Polonia? Many Jewish merchants and their families in the Broadway-Fillmore area congregated at the Fillmore Avenue Shul, also called Ahavas Achim Sunagogue. The shul is located on the east side of Fillmore Avenue, about a block north of Broadway. In 1950, Ahavas Achim merged with another East Side congregation, Anshe Lubavitz, and moved to North Buffalo.

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Fillmore Avenue around the former Fillmore Avenue Shul.

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Former Humboldt Orthodox Center shul on Glenwood Avenue. The building used to be a telephone company switching and operator office until it was purchased by the Orthodox Center.

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Detail of the former Temple Beth David, on the east side of Humboldt Parkway in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. I couldn't get closer.

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Street in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.

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Nearby Jefferson Avenue.

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The former Temple Beth Zion is located on the east side of Richmond Street, in a healthy section of Buffalo's West Side. The congregation moved to Tonawanda in 1966, to be closer to the growing Jewish population in Amherst and the eastern section of Tonawanda. Two synagogues and a branch of the Jewish Community Center of Buffalo still remain on the West Side today.

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The neighborhood surrounding the former synagogue. Richmond Street is the dividing line between the well-off Elmwood Village neighborhood, and the slowly gentrifying Upper West Side.

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The most haunting stop was at the Beth Jacob Cemetery, in the city's Genesee-Moselle neighborhood, the most "keepin' it real" drug and gang-infested area ion the East Side. This was the cemetery of Temple Beth David, also known as the Clinton Street Shul, which disbanded in the 1940s or 1950s. The neighborhood was never home to a Jewish population; the cemetery was started decades ago, when its location was considered far out in the country. The last burial took place in 1970.

The surrounding neighborhood, once a blue collar, predominantly German neighborhood, experienced rapid racial and socioeconomic transition in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As the neighborhood became more dangerous, the Beth Jacob Cemetery was forgotten.

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The surrounding neighborhood.

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PlannerGirl

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Ugh the last shots, with the over turned head stones truly breaks my heart. Do no family members come back to look after the place at all? If you ever go back please leave a penny for me.
 

Dan

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PlannerGirl said:
Ugh the last shots, with the over turned head stones truly breaks my heart. Do no family members come back to look after the place at all? If you ever go back please leave a penny for me.


I will. I didn't know about the penny; I know about piling rocks, though.
 

donk

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Dan said:
I will. I didn't know about the penny; I know about piling rocks, though.

Where there stones placed there?

Just wondering if anyone ever went to visit there family meeebrs. Always makes me sad at the cemetery to see a stone with no visible indication that people have visitied.

Is there not a community burial foundation to look after the plots, even though it is not in the neighbourhood?
 

Dan

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donk said:
Is there not a community burial foundation to look after the plots, even though it is not in the neighbourhood?

From what I understand, the Jewish Community Federatioon of Buffalo just recently acquired the cemetery. (I don't know what happened to the original cemetery board.) The site is being mowed every so often. I don't lnow what they're trying to do to restore the tombstones.

As to how the cemetery got into the sad state that it's in, I can only speculate. There may not be many living relaives of those who are buried there, and those who are living may have moved out of the region.

There's an even lesser known Jewish cemetery on Fillmore Avenue, just south of Genesee Street. It's not marked, and only a few are buried there; it's little more than a fenced off portion of a side yard.
 

PlannerGirl

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In some areas small stones have been replaced with coins to leave at graves. I donno maybe its a southern US thing.
 

Dan

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Fixed the thread. (I tried to make sure as many of the old photo threads as possible were restored, but some of them had broken image links before the move to Xenforo.)

Ahavas Sholem Synagogue was demolished in 2014. :( From Buffalo Spree, May 7 2012:

Built in 1903, the Jefferson Avenue Shul is the oldest synagogue building still standing in Buffalo. It has kept its exotic onion dome and its distinctive corbelled honey-colored brick façade. The interior retains its elegant arched ceiling, graceful columns, and the horseshoe-shaped balcony where the women of the congregation sat. On the other hand, a compromised roof section has led to the collapse of the east stairway, two of its prominent exterior finials are missing, and the ark of the covenant has been partially disassembled.

This Buffalo landmark was also under a demolition order until a few weeks ago.

The structure, officially built as the Ahavas Sholem Synagogue, was designed by architectural firm A. E. Minks and Son in the Moorish Revival style. It features a prominent arched central entrance, a large round window above the entrance that once was in the shape of a Star of David, and a grand sheet metal onion dome surmounting the roof’s elaborate cornice. Even in its current condition, with the windows obscured and their original stained glass missing, the former synagogue makes quite a statement on this stretch of Jefferson Avenue, which is dominated by modern housing developments.

In the 1996 application for local landmark status, which was successful, researcher Tim Tielman speculates that an earlier nineteenth-century Italianate building may have been adapted by the Minks firm to create the synagogue. Tielman states that "The steeply pitched roof, round headed openings, and Florentine window sash all indicate an Italianate structure. … it is likely that [A. E. Minks and Son] were responsible for the redesign of the front section." Whether Tielman’s suggestion is correct or not, there is no question that the comparatively huge dome does appear somewhat incongruous with other elements of the structure—though most would agree that the incongruity adds to the building’s distinction.

The application for landmark status was made under the auspices of the Greater New Hope Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal congregation that was the last to use the now-vacant structure, and still owns it. The building ceased to be used as a synagogue in 1962, and was taken over by two subsequent Pentecostal congregations. Now based in Arizona, Reverend Jerome Ferrell of the Greater New Hope Church of Christ has been providing access to the building so that parties interested in its preservation can assess its problems and the possibilities for reuse.

Those efforts have been coordinated by community activist and photographer David Torke, who says, "I convened the first meeting at the Jewish Community Center earlier this month and invited ten local preservationists to wrap their minds around what could be done to reverse course and save the synagogue." Torke also writes the blog Fix Buffalo Today (fixbuffalo.blogspot.com), which focuses on preventing blight and promoting preservation on Buffalo’s East Side. In his blog post on the former synagogue, he explains, "We are currently establishing a series of technical reports—based on architectural and engineering studies—to determine the structure’s overall physical condition."

Torke is joined in his efforts by Buffalo Common Council Member Darius Pridgeon, historian Chana R. Kotzin, and Tielman, as well as others who want to keep the synagogue from ending up as landfill fodder. There have been several interesting proposals floated as reuse ideas, including a museum of sorts for artifacts relating to Buffalo’s East Side Jewish community. In its day, the Jefferson Avenue Shul was known as the most stylish of the urban synagogues. It could seat as many as 700 on high holidays, and its officers were known to wear cutaways and silk hats. Some members of the synagogue’s former congregation and local Jewish organizations have made efforts to keep its history alive, and an abortive attempt to restore the building took place in 1996, at the time of the local landmark application. It is hoped that a successful application to the National Register of Historic Places would bring financial help to the current restoration drive.
 
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