sweatshops, as well as the tenement houses where the workers
lived, were often owned and operated by the Jewish
The one thing
that bound all Jews together in every aspect of everyday
life was the Yiddish language. This was the common means of
communication, even though differences in customs and mores
persisted among the newly arrived immigrants and between
these "greenies or greenhorns" (a derogatory description of
recently arrived immigrants of any background) and the more
established Jewish community.
As the new
immigrants became more savvy, they began to join trade
unions and became activists for better working conditions,
much to the chagrin of their Jewish bosses. At this time, a
lively Jewish press emerged. Lectures were held at the Young
Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA). Jacob Adler and Boris
Thomashevsky starred at the Arch Street Jewish Theater.
were established in Philadelphia, many immigrants made an
effort to bring over family members left behind in the old
country. This need gave rise to financial institutions in
the city which came to be known as Ethnic Banks.
For a fee, these banks would make all travel arrangements to
transport family members from their shtetl to Philadelphia.
There were four of these Jewish banks in Philadelphia at the
turn of the century. They were the Blitzstein Bank, the
Lipschutz Bank, the Rosenbaum Bank, and the Rosenbluth Bank.
Later, some of these banks grew into financial institutions
rendering services which we now attribute to all banks.
However, only one of these companies has survived until now.
The Rosenbluth organization has become one of the largest
travel agencies in America, if not the world.
Jews who came to Philadelphia toward the end of the 19th
century primarily settled in sections of South Philadelphia
such as the Southwark vicinity, located between 4th and 8th
Streets, and from Moore Street to Oregon Avenue. At the
height of Jewish immigration to Philadelphia (1900-1910),
the Jewish population of South Philadelphia approached
100,000 people. Porter Street, between 4th and 8th Streets,
was the "Main Street" of Jewish Philadelphia. This street
was the location of many synagogues, schools, and welfare
agencies. By 1920, it was estimated that 175,000 Jewish
residents were concentrated within a mile radius of 6th and
important Jewish community in South Philadelphia was located
on and around South Street. Jewish shops and professional
offices occupied South Street between 4th and 8th Streets.
This was an important commercial artery of Jewish
Philadelphia at the beginning of the new century. Since most
recently arrived immigrants lived above or behind their
stores, the South Street area also had a large residential
Jewish population. Other Jewish neighborhoods also began to
emerge, including those in the Northern Liberties and
Strawberry Mansion sections of the city. During the 1920s
and 1930s, Jews began to spread beyond these neighborhoods
to West Philadelphia, Logan, Wynnefield, and the Oxford
was some disbursement of the Jewish population to various
areas throughout Philadelphia, nevertheless, prior to the
1940s, the city was comprised of specific ethnic
neighborhoods. The largest Italian community congregated in
sections of South Philadelphia, where they continue to exist
even today. The Greek-American neighborhood was located in
the vicinity of 10th and Locust Streets; the
German-Americans along north 5th Street around Berks Street,
and eastern Europeans were clustered in the Northern
Liberties section of the city (5th to 8th Streets between
Brown and Girard.) Irish -Americans first settled along
south 2nd Street ("Two Street"), where some still live. This
ethnic group was the first to spread beyond their initial
residential confines to become assimilated into the general
population. The African-American population of Philadelphia
were severely restricted to areas of South Philadelphia and
to West Philadelphia, north of Market Street, until the
the returning servicemen married and began raising families.
This phenomenon gave rise to what was called the "Baby
Boomer Generation." These service veterans had been exposed
to mores and experiences vastly different from those of
their parent. They no longer tolerated the ethnic
residential restrictions imposed upon them prior to the war.
These new families opted for new homes in less congested
neighborhoods. Thus began the migration of these young
families from the city to the suburbs. Older Jewish
communities soon became depleted of their young people and
eventually died out after the demise of the last remaining
vestiges of the immigrant Jewish population. As synagogues,
schools and stores closed in the older areas, new ones
sprung up in the newly established suburban communities.