Video Series Explores Jewish Philadelphia, Then and Now

“The Little Shul,” which is formally known as Congregation Shivtei Yeshuron Ezras Israel. | Rachel Kurland

Along with the flowers, May brought Jewish American Heritage Month.

And in celebration of the month-long tribute to Jewish-American life, the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., launched a video series that examines memories of Jewish life in cities across the U.S., including Philadelphia.

The series, part of the center’s Wexler Oral History Project, features video interviews with several people who recalled life in historical Jewish Philadelphia.

A common theme emerges about the importance of Philadelphia’s row homes in fostering close connections among the Jewish community.

Shabbat services were held in converted storefronts or row homes, one of which, Congregation Shivtei Yeshuron Ezras Israel, aka “The Little Shul,” remains in operation today.

David Berg recalled the synagogue in a video interview: “my grandfather went [there] from the 1930s until he ended up in nursing care in the 1990s. I don’t know what [the name] means, but I think it might mean the wild and crazy men of South Philadelphia.”

According to the center, the first Jewish resident of Philadelphia was recorded in 1701. The Jewish population began to climb after that, and the area saw a surge in Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

These immigrants introduced Yiddish to the region, establishing folkshules (Yiddish schools) and Yiddish language newspapers and radio programs.

Other interviews mention patronizing Jewish delis, traveling to summer camp and attending Hebrew school.

The intersection of tradition and contemporary life in the Wexler Oral History Project is viewable here.


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