The third in Ms. Levitt's series of "lost" synagogues of New York's five boroughs focuses quite a bit on buildings in my neighborhood that formerly housed Jewish congregations. I've lived in three Manhattan zip codes (and one in Brooklyn, if you're curious, 11222). My current 10002 has 22, the one I lived in the longest, 10009 has 14, and the other, 10003 has 4. Levitt covers 32 others, as well, but to me, the book is primarily a Lower East Side party. Most of the buildings she describes in my neighborhoods are familiar, though I wouldn't have guessed that many of them had once been shuls.
Levitt is a dedicated researcher and methodologist. Before getting into the particulars of each building, she provides a history of Jews in Manhattan, explains synagogue names and uses them to draw conclusions about 19th and 20th century Jewish life, discusses real estate and discusses her own practices in collecting data for the book. I appreciate that she visited sites that are now places of worship for other religions, and in a deliberately respectful manner. Being someone who doesn't read a lot of nonfiction, I enjoyed the book most when Levitt employed a more personal narrative.
However, even in the descriptive passages, the reader can tell how personal Levitt's research is. She truly sees the former synagogues as lost and is sad when all signs of previous Judaic worship are gone.
A couple of tidbits
- The history reveals that the first Jews came to New York in 1654--I had no idea.
- In the description of B'nai Isaac Anshei Lechowitz on Henry Street, she gives three titles on Jewish gangsters, including But He Was Good to His Mother: the Lives and Crimes of Jewish Gangsters
One of my favorite entries is on Chevrah Ahawath Yeshurun Shara Torah, which is known to me as the Sixth Street Community Center, a place where I've spent a fair amount of time in the presence of secular Jewish anarchists and their peops.
Bonus points for: a long acknowledgments page where she thanks many libraries and archives, a glossary of non-English words and a bibliography. Also, though it's not really any of my business or relevant to this review, I like that Levitt, a Barnard alumna, kept the last name she grew up with.
I recommend the book for people interested in New York or Jewish history and architecture. The material would also lend itself well to walking tours and oral histories, if anyone who can remember the synagogues in their active days are still around--and not lost, too.