On our Gangster, Writer, Rabbi walking tour, we explore the lives–and funeral processions–of three iconic Lower East Side figures: writer Sholem Aleichem, Rabbi Jacob Joseph, and East Side gangster Big Jack Zelig. Though Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky usually come to mind when thinking of Jewish gangsters, Zelig was a true leader of crime in the neighborhood. As Abraham Schoenfeld, detective for the Kehilla, a Jewish communal organization, wrote: “Men before him – like Kid Twist, Monk Eastman, and others – were as pygmies to a giant. With the passing of Zelig, one of the most ‘nerviest’, strongest, and best men of his kind left us.”
Who was Big Jack Zelig? Born Zelig Harry Lefkowitz, Zelig was the leader of a band of Jewish gangsters in New York City in the early 1900s. Early in 1912, the Zelig gang was hired by corrupt New York City Police Lieutenant Charles Becker who ran a protection racket for the New York gangs to kill another Manhattan gangster named Herman (Beansie) Rosenthal whom Becker thought was an informant. Rosenthal was shot to death on a Manhattan Street on July 16,1912 by four of Big Jack’s men. Police Lieut. Becker was arrested and charged with ordering Rosenthal’s murder and put on trial with Zelig scheduled to testify against him. On Oct. 5,1912, the night before the trial was to begin Big Jack Zelig was shot to death while riding on a Second Ave. trolley car in Manhattan. Police Lieut. Becker was convicted of ordering Rosenthal’s murder and sentenced to death. He was executed in Sing-Sing’s electric chair.
Death may be final, but the story doesn’t end there. Find out how Zelig’s funeral polarized the downtown Jewish community, underscoring tensions between American commericalism and Eastern European traditions. The tour is offered Thursdays July 29 and August 19 at 7pm.
Searching for a recipe for your Shabbos meal? You can call your bubbe — but if that fails, we’re here to provide your weekly fix. On tap this week is a garlicky summer gazpacho and a sweet sangria for all of your ceremonial needs.
Garlicky Summer Gazpacho
Garlic, the favored seasoning of Jewish cooks worldwide, provides a spicy kick to this summer soup. Easy to make and serve, this promises to be a hit at your Sabbath table.
- 1 bottle tomato juice
- 5 cloves garlic
- 4 plum tomatoes
- 1 carrot
- 1 large cucumber
- half a bunch parsley
- half a bunch chives
- black pepper and salt to taste
Roughly dice vegetables. Add all solids to blender with tomato juice to cover. Blend until desired smoothness is reached. Add salt and pepper to taste. Voila! A first course that takes no heat and just 5 minutes to prepare.
Tired of the same old Manischewitz kiddush wine? Try this sweet sangria as a fresh alternative. With a heady mix of fresh fruit and alcohol, your guests will be saying “Amen!”
- 1 bottle red wine
- 1 mango, sliced
- 2 cups of fresh raspberries (or thawed frozen)
- 1 lime, sliced
- 3 oz brandy
- 2 tbsp of superfine sugar
- 1 can club soda
Combine all ingredients except club soda in a pitcher and refrigerate overnight. Before serving, stir in club soda. For an extra treat, freeze a few of the raspberries and use as ice cubes!
After leaving Eastern Europe, the founders of our synagogue forged their lives as Americans on the streets of the Lower East Side. How did they celebrate their newfound heritage? Unfortunately, I’ve found no mention of barbecued borscht or other culinary treats, but a strong sense of pride as Americans certainly took hold in the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s congregation.
As Annie Polland comments in Landmark of the Spirit: The Eldridge Street Synagogue,
Within the walls of the synagogue, immigrants forged an American Jewish identity that blended patriotism to their new country with a sense of responsibility to Jews around the world…In 1889 the congregation decorated the synagogue in honor of the centennial of George Washington’s iunaguruation and, in 1901, held a memorial service for President William McKinley. During World War I, the congregation commisioned and displayed an American flag with stars for each one of the congregation’s sons serving in the war (12.)
This ode to the patriotic boys serving overseas hung from special flagholders, placed in the women’s balcony and embellished with five-pointed American stars. Flying proudly from the magestic facade of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, the flag must have seemed like a banner for American pride and identity. Though the flags have been lost to time, the flagholders stand as important reminders of the independence felt by our founders in this country.