Yesterday we received an email tip from Kevin Walter, asking: “Did anyone notice that Zelig Blumenthal’s store at 13 Essex Street has vanished without a trace? Signs are gone? Interior is completely empty. Another bit of the old, Jewish Lower East Side gone.” Today we dialed the phone number for the Judaica store, a fixture on the Lower East Side for close to 60 years. The man who answered said they’d moved to Brooklyn.
Zelig Blumenthal, also known as Z & A Kol Torah, is run by Mordechai Blumenthal. His parents came to New York from Israel in 1950. A seventh generation torah scribe, Zelig passed the craft on to his son, who continued to provide torah scrolls to synagogues, but also diversified into all sorts of Judaica. In 2002, Mordechai told the New York Times, ‘As long as people come here, I’ll stay… It’ll last at least another 5 or 10 years.”
If a Jewish equivalent to Little Italy remains in Manhattan — Little Shtetl, say — it is probably the two-block stretch of Essex Street between East Broadway and Grand Street, where half a dozen stores carry signs with Hebrew lettering. Yet even here, tides of change are apparent.
There are now only three Judaica stores on Essex Street. There have been striking changes on this historic block, just in the past year. In the spring we reported on the demolition of 5 Essex and the subsequent relocation of its neighbor, M. Schames & Sons.
In September, photographer A. Jesse Jiryu Davis paid a visit to Zelig Blumenthal for The Lo-Down. He was there to begin documenting the shop for our series “On Essex.” Here are some of his photos from that day:
Several years ago, Mordechai Blumenthal took the business online. You can visit his web site here.