Jews Picket Jewish Slumlords


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May 7, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 29

Jewish ‘Zealots’ Demand Slumlord Excommunication

By Stephanie Gervis Harrington

A demonstration was staged last Wednesday at the headquarters of the New York Board of Rabbis, 10 East 73rd Street, to protest against Jewish slumlords. The pickets themselves were Jewish.

They said they were protesting because, as young Jews, they were embarrassed by what they claim is a large proportion of Jewish names on the lists of slumlords. The demonstration was staged to “petition the rabbis of New York to seek out the slum owners in their congregations and to threaten them with denunciation from the pulpit and even herem, or excommunication, if they fail to repair and maintain their properties.”

The demonstrators said that they had tried to set up a meeting with Rabbi Harold Gordon, head of the Board of Rabbis, but had been refused. They also said they had submitted to the Board of Rabbis a list of 250 Jewish landlords who own 500 slum buildings in Manhattan. The leaflets handed out by the pickets contained charges that “most of 600 buildings whose tenants have complained to housing ‘clinics’ and tenants’ councils on the lower East Side have Jewish landlords” and that “74 of the 80 Lower East Side buildings hit by rent strikes have Jewish landlords.”

Rabbi Gordon refused to comment on the demonstration when The Voice tried to contact him. A Conservative rabbi who came out of the board’s offices during the demonstration but declined to give his name or congregation said he thought the picket line was “more exotic than effective.” “I don’t think a special appeal of this sort is necessary,” he continued. “The rabbis have done what they could.” Asked what, specifically, the rabbis have done, he replied: “Specifically, I don’t know.”

The pickets, who call themselves “Zealots, a Pan-Semitic Brotherhood,” included three writers and two avant-garde film-makers familiar to the Village scene. But while some were clearly of a bohemian mold, others looked like businessmen on their lunch hour…

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