Brownsville’s Shared Jewish/Black Roots Rekindled in Fundraiser

“There’s nothing a good bowl of Matzo ball soup can’t fix,” the old Jewish saying goes, and community healing is no exception. 

Yiddish New York, an East European Jewish organization fostering outreach amongst cultures of all kinds, is partnering up with Seeds in the Middle and Luria Academy to bring some classic Jewish foods to the residents of Brownsville. 

Dubbed “Brownsville Nosh”, this fundraiser is aimed at raising money to provide the community with warm coats and fresh food for the holidays, and one of the dishes being served is a Shabbat table classic. The donations are to be given out on Dec 12-13 at PS 298 on Watkins Street. 

“You can focus a lot of the differences between people; you can focus on the conflicts. I’m not doing that. I’m focusing on what brings people together.” Raul Rothblatt, a Yiddish New York representative and one of the organizers of this event, said.

Wanting to foster a better connection between the Jewish and black communities in Brooklyn is a driving force behind the fundraiser and there’s no better way to do it than over a steaming hot bowl of chicken soup. 

But this event is also targeted at bringing Jews into the past of Brownsville, which had had a large Jewish presence in the early 1900’s, in order to better connect them with the communities living there in the present. 

Rothblatt’s passion for bringing awareness to Brownsville’s rich Jewish history has spanned for three years at Yiddish New York, where he has organized various sessions centered around this very topic.

“There are more levels to understand about Brownsville currently when you learn about the Jewish history it had,” he said.

The Brownsville Jewish population grew in the 1900’s after Manhattan’s Lower East side had become too crowded. The community grew over the years to become the largest Jewish community in NYC, famous for its Yiddish theaters and Pitkin Avenue shopping district. At one time the neighborhood boasted the largest Jewish p[op[ulation in the United States and was dubbed  “Little Jerusalem”. 

After a period of racial and anti-semitic tension, along with the advent of large-scale public housing projects in the 1960’s, the demographics shifted radically. But Rothblatt explained that his focus was on connecting communities through similar stories, food, and music. 

Pointing to the Zion Triangle, a monument built to honor the World War one heroes, Rothblatt said, “Jews were sent to go die by large numbers in World War one. Their lives weren’t considered valuable. There’s a similar kind of lack of value for the lives in Brownsville,” he said, noting that we could do something to help. 

A shocking 99 percent of students at PS 298, the school in which the organizers will be giving out the food, qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

Brownsville also remains one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city to date, where residents also there suffer from among the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and related illnesses. 

A donation to the fundraiser will be put towards the funds for the food and equipment needed for the event, plus an iPad that will be used to accept EBT/SNAP payments. 

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