Eicha for North Lawndale

Many people with Chicago roots had a grandparent who attended this shul. Today it is a shambles, and following a public fight to save it this spring, the once magnificent synagogue where Martin Luther King Jr. later made a famous speech has been be torn down for good, another scar on the face of North Lawndale. Nobody cares, nobody can change it, we can only mourn it and the tragic history of the neighborhood that once was home to 175,000 Jews within a square mile on the west side of the city. And so, an eicha for North Lawndale and the Russische Shul, Anche Kenesses Israel:

Eicha for North Lawndale

The Russiche Shul looms large on Douglas, decades since it changed to a church.
The now falling ceiling covered three thousand souls who traversed the world to pray freely,
and those who once gathered to hear Reverend Dr. King preach on justice and and equality.
The little landschul up the street my grandfather’s family built, though small, still stands,
but the Russiche shul, four stories tall, is in the lurch, without a soul to pray within its hall.

Across the Boulevard, another grand house of knowledge,
Hebrew Theological College, with its pillars adorned by David’s star
now lies low, demolished after years of decline and decay into rebar.
Another milestone, another majestic place in our people’s time and space,
erased from the face of history and forgotten.

We are dust and we end as dust and all our synagogues end in rust.
The congregants wailing on Yom Kippur, the Yeshiva bochurs all long gone,
moved away, their children ignorant of the little Jerusalem on the Great Vest Side.

Soon these walls will also come a-tumbling down, a piece of our past will disappear
with nothing but a vacant lot for passersby to wonder what once stood there,
and no one to say Eicha for the crumbling synagogues of North Lawndale.

9 Responses to “Eicha for North Lawndale”

  1. I’d be more concerned for the area’s crumbling people than its crumbling synagogues-turned-crumbling-churches. Any money going to save this thing (that’s what it is) is money that won’t be available for people.

    Now for Chicago this is a real problem:


    Quadruple NY’s rate?

    Double LA’s rate?

    Congratulations, Rahm!

    Dave Boxthorn · July 29th, 2012 at 10:08 pm
  2. Eicha is not about the Temple falling into disrepair after Jews relocated to the suburbs of Babylonia.

    Warren · July 30th, 2012 at 5:12 am
  3. @Warren Point taken. It was a reflection on the day taking some creative license to discuss the phenomen.

    Adam · July 30th, 2012 at 5:40 pm
  4. Life consists of change. People move on. You can’t preserve every historic shul.

    Jeff · August 1st, 2012 at 10:03 am
  5. True, and the post is in agreement with this sentiment. Sad as it is, its better not to have an ‘edifice complex.’ Still, we should note the demise of this place and mourn it just a little bit…

    adam davis · August 1st, 2012 at 1:59 pm
  6. The classic article on the decline of North Lawndale (written while it was virtually in progress) is “This Was North Lawndale: The Transplantation of a Jewish Community” by Erich Rosenthal in the journal Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 22:2, April 1960 pp. 67-82.
    He covers religious, secular, educational, health care and other institutions. Rosenthal estimates that the Jewish population of the neighborhood was 65,000 in 1946 and (outside of institutions) about 500 in 1956.

    Robert Tabak · August 3rd, 2012 at 9:44 am
  7. Adam, thank you for sharing your sentiment, especially in this poetic form.

    Northside · August 7th, 2012 at 8:04 pm
  8. what a lovely old building, remininscent of the synagogues we have in my current home town of Budapest: jewish.hu/view.php?clabel=zsinagogak Having spent my childhood in the US South I sometime forget that there are historic buildings in the States, too

    Zo · August 15th, 2012 at 9:28 am
  9. You appear to have confused “Eichah” with “Kinnot.” This is an excellent Kinnah though and I plan to recite it next year.

    Aharon · August 29th, 2012 at 10:18 pm

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