Last week, a group of people with a passion for the Lower East Side came to one of the neighborhood’s most magnificent spaces, the Angel Orensanz Center, for a celebration. The occasion was the official unveiling of Clayton Patterson’s sweeping three-volume project chronicling Jewish life on the LES.
“Jews: A People’s History of the Lower East Side,” was edited by Patterson, the neighborhood documentarian, and sociologist Mareleyn Schneider. It consists of more than 1500 pages and 150 chapters, covering such varied topics as Jewish boxing, Allen Ginsberg, the destruction of LES synagogues and the 2nd Avenue deli. The books were published with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.
Many of the authors contributing to the project were on hand last Wednesday for the book party inside the 1849 synagogue building on Norfolk Street. We chatted with Al Orensanz, who is among the contributors, as well as Yura Dashevsky, who wrote the chapter on Katz’s Deli. LES historian Joyce Mendelsohn was there, as was Gary Shapiro, who wrote about Patterson’s decade-long undertaking in the Jewish Daily Forward last summer.
Patterson made brief remarks, but mostly he said, the evening was about guests interacting with one another “salon style,” in small groups scattered in the sanctuary. “This group of people might never be brought together again,” Patterson observed. It was a memorable evening, for sure, which celebrated not just Jewish culture but the artists, activists, visionaries and misfits who defined the Lower East Side for generations.