A Bid to Save and Share Pieces of Jewish Heritage

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When the Fire Department ordered trash removed from the balcony of a little-used auditorium at the Educational Alliance, one of New York’s oldest Jewish settlement houses, part of the agency’s heritage was almost tossed out. There, jumbled in a paper bag, were documents from the early 1900s about a forgotten youth theater program that cast immigrant “hooligans” in classic dramas to help them become good Americans.

Samuel L. Clemens (that is, Mark Twain) was its board president, and the muckraking photojournalist Jacob Riis was a fan.

“I have found going back and looking at this stuff hugely important,” said Robin Bernstein, executive director of the Alliance, which is still a secular Jewish agency on the Lower East Side, but now serves mostly Chinese and Hispanic families. “There are successes that we had at the turn of the century that kind of got lost.”

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