Places that Matter

Bialystoker Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing (aka Bialystoker Home for the Aged)

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Bialystoker Home for the Aged, photo courtesy Friends of the Lower East Side
Bialystoker Home for the Aged, photo courtesy Friends of the Lower East Side
Bialystoker Home for the Aged, photo courtesy Friends of the Lower East Side
Entrance archway and reliefs, Bialystoker Home for the Aged, photo by Paul Margolis, courtesy Friends of the Lower East Side
Threatened historic Lower East Side elder care facility
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Place Matters Profile

Written by Joyce Mendelsohn

"Cast me not off in the time of old age," Psalm 71
 
The Bialystoker Center was constructed 1929-1931 as a facility to care for the elderly in the familiar surroundings of their neighborhood and one that would be easily accessible for visits from family and friends. It is a rare surviving headquarters of a "landsmanshaft" (Yiddish for "mutual aid society") and one of the few remaining structures that reflects the history and culture of caring for generations of Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side. In announcing plans for this endeavor, they declared, “Our Home will combine modernity with compassion – a Home with a Heart that will stand as a monument for succeeding generations.” Harry Hurwit, the architect of several smaller buildings in the neighborhood, designed the striking ten-story structure with ornament expressing its religious heritage. Opening day on June 1, 1931 was a festive occasion for the Jewish population of the Lower East Side – marked by a massive parade attended by nearly 5,000 jubilant observers, and telegrams from Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mayor James J. Walker and other dignitaries celebrating the building’s status as a major institution in the community.
 
Jewish Bialystokers who came from Bialystok, Poland, to the Lower East Side did not forget their roots. Between World War I and World War II, one of the Bialystoker Center's primary functions was to raise funds to send back to Poland and to diaspora settlements in places like Argentina and Australia. According to Rebecca Kobrin, Professor of American Jewish History at Columbia University, the Center's president regularly visited Bialystok, Poland to determine the needs of its Jewish community, which he would convey to the Bialystokers in diaspora in New York City.
 
Originally, the Bialystoker building featured dormitories for 250 residents, hospital wards, an auditorium, two synagogues and sun parlors. But the Center was more than a nursing home. In the 1930s it served as a social, cultural and business networking hub for the area's 40,000 Jewish Bialystokers. As the neighborhood's demographics changed, so did Center's resident populations. Over the course of its 80 years, the Bialystoker Home cared for New Yorkers of all backgrounds and all faiths. 
 
When erected, the Home towered over the neighborhood of tenements and small shops. Today, it stands as a significant architectural element on East Broadway. Designed in the Art Deco style, its façade of yellow brick recalls the stones of Jerusalem. The distinctive entrance arch displays two menorahs and twelve stone medallions each representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel, surmounted by the name, “BIALYSTOKER” in Hebraic-style lettering. The building exhibits a unique combination of Jewish symbolism and deco design that signifies a community firmly rooted in the traditions of their homeland and, at the same time, proclaiming their rightful place in America.