Back in January, a Chicago Jewish News cover story asked if Devon Avenue, once known as the “Jewish Mag Mile” on the city’s far north side was nifter. The Tribune wrote it up in May and last week, even the Chicago Reader picked up on the story with the move of Rosenblum’s Judaica to Skokie and the closure of Good Morgan Fish and Morgan Harbor. This follows the shuttering of Brisk Yeshiva, MiTsu Yun, Jerusalem Pizza and others in recent years. What was once a mile long strip of stores is a shadow of itself.
My mother remembers when Devon was a classy street with quality merchant stores, but that was in the 50’s. Since I can remember it from the mid-70’s it was always a bit run down, heavily ethnic (it is the most diverse mile of pavement in all of Chicago) but not without its charm. The Indo-Pak part of the street is now far more dense, lively and even clean.
Jewishly speaking, the locus of W. Rogers Park has been rapidly shifting North toward Touhy and even Howard. The Russian immigrants who once kept the shift at bay have moved to the burbs. In the last five years we’ve seen several new shuls open on Touhy, including Sharei Tzedek (aka Bais Barnaby’s), Mkor Hayyim, Sephardic Ohel Shalom and the new Adas Jeshurun. These are joined by Or Menorah and the Egal Minyan in the Temple Menorah building closer to Howard, where a ‘Kosher’ jewel opened 5 years back.
Is Devon dying? Of course it is. But it has been dying for three decades now. Someday I’ll drive my kids through the neighborhood and show them what once was, just as last week I drove through N. Lawndale, where my grandfather grew up a century ago. There too are the shells of shuls by the dozen, now Baptist churches. Undoubtedly the Sentinel or Forward back in the 50’s decried the “Demise of Douglas Boulevard.” And fifty years from now, my grandchildren will read a post on their iPads about the “Downfall of Dundee,” around which there is now another great cluster of Jewish life.
Ein chadash takhat ha-shemesh!