Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Robert David Johnson

Committee Members

Clarence Taylor

Jonathan Rosenberg

Hasia Diner

Aldo Lauria-Santiago

Subject Categories

Jewish Studies | Political History | Social History | United States History


New York City, Lower East Side, urban history, race and ethnicity, American Jewish history


This dissertation examines how Jewish political leaders on the Lower East Side responded to neighborhood change, particularly the influx of Puerto Rican migrants, from the 1960s through the 1990s. Utilizing untapped archival material, including congressional records, municipal papers, legal files, articles from the ethnic press, and quantitative voting data, I demonstrate that the Lower East Side remained home to an influential network of Jewish political leaders, institutions, and voters long after the early twentieth-century. Residing on Grand Street, largely Orthodox, and often descended from Lower East Side Jewish immigrants, this political base created, shaped, and implemented antipoverty, education, housing, and redistricting policy in the neighborhood. These efforts, often undertaken in conjunction with mayoral administrations and both secular and Orthodox Jewish defense agencies, shaped the social relationships, real and imagined community boundaries, and electoral coalitions between Jews and Puerto Ricans on the Lower East Side. In addition, both Grand Street leaders and Puerto Ricans tied collective memories of the Lower East Side to specific political claims, most notably those involving the definition and preservation of local space. As a result, Jewish-Puerto Rican relations became a central feature of both local and citywide politics in the 1960s and beyond.

Although Puerto Ricans, in conjunction with left-wing, Jewish activists, formed an increasingly coherent political agenda and challenged Grand Street’s control of neighborhood politics, Grand Street leaders helped shift New York City politics to the right at this time. By aligning electorally with outer-borough white ethnic voters, cultivating ties to politically conservative Orthodox groups, and supporting the interests of private real estate, the Lower East Side’s Orthodox base, in both intention and effect, curtailed programs that organized the neighborhood’s poorest residents and accelerated the pace of Lower East Side gentrification. For this reason, Grand Street leaders helped exacerbate racial and class stratification in the neighborhood and reaffirmed broader changes in New York’s political economy during and after the 1970s, particularly the development of luxury real estate. These actions made the Lower East Side a vitally important site for the development of, and ideological fissures within, American Jewish politics in the last third of the twentieth-century.