The only Yiddish cultural center in New York City is looking for financial assistance to keep the rain out.
After 61 years, The Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center at 3301 Bainbridge Avenue needs a new roof.
Co-president of the center David Braun told the Bronx Times they had been patching the roof for a few years, but have now come to the conclusion it is time for a permanent solution.
However, they discovered the total replacement will cost around $70,000, which could bankrupt their organization. So, on Sunday, November 24, Yitskhok Gottesman, the other president, launched a GoFundMe fundraising drive on behalf of the center and as of press time, had amassed nearly $7,000.
“Our little building has uniquely served the Yiddish cultural world; now we must turn to you for help,” it said on the GoFundMe page. “We have never asked the community for funds before. “Now we have no choice.”
Braun, who teaches Yiddish at Columbia University and at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, said they never expected such an outpouring of love from the community.
Sholem Aleichem is the only social institution with its own meeting place devoted to regularly scheduled cultural events in the country. There are ten monthly performances and or lectures and holiday events.
Members come from the Bronx, New Jersey, Manhattan and Queens. He noted when they started the fundraiser they didn’t know what to expect.
“At first given we had this daunting prospect of putting up a roof at such a great expense, it was should we just bury heads and cry,” he said. “We decided we couldn’t do that because it doesn’t help anybody.”
The center was originally Sholom Aleichem Folk Shul Number 21 and belonged to a network of schools nationwide. The school started in the ‘30s and in 1940, opened at its current location.
At that time, the west Bronx was heavily Jewish. From the ‘30s through the ‘70s parents sent their kids to the school four days a week.
“This neighborhood had tons of Yiddish speaking Jews in it once upon a time,” Braun commented. “Bainbridge Avenue was a destination for Jewish families to settle. This school was a very prestigious once.”
Then in the 1970s demographics changed and the school became a cultural center.
Over the years membership has stayed steady, but since a renovation took place in 1961, no major work has occurred until now.
“We have a lot of devotion of our members,” Braun stressed.
So, after temporarily fixing the roof for a few years, they realized it was time to make a change.
They have already given a deposit to a roofer and hopefully the work will be completed by the end of the month. However, the roof has caused them to cancel events the past two months.
“So we had to bit the bullet and we spent quite a bit of money,” Braun said. “There’s been an outpouring of compassion and generosity.”