For the past several years, photographer Harvey Finkle documented their life stories. “The neighborhood possesses a uniqueness that continues to be found in the faces and voices of the people who still live there.” What makes the neighborhood and residents unique? One answer is their history. Home to scores of Jewish businesses, synagogues, religious schools, charitable and social agencies, South Philadelphia was the heart of the city’s Jewish immigrant community for two generations.
That changed after WWII. Jewish South Philadelphians watched most of their friends and family move away, in search of greener pastures in other sections of the city and suburbs. For those who stayed on–men and women now in their 70s and 80s–fond memories bind them to the neighborhood. In the interviews Finkle conducted, nostalgia runs strong. A warmly remembered past bumps up against a present reality that the residents alternately celebrate and lament. They are proud bearers of an immigrant heritage rooted in the world they knew as children.
For many years, Jewish South Philadelphia was stigmatized as a poor, immigrant neighborhood, a place left behind. Those perceptions are changing, and this catalogue, published in conjunction with this exhibit is a reflection of that change.
Finkle’s photographs and interviews speak of the value of staying on, of remaining rooted to a place, in a society where many are constantly grasping for the newest, next best thing. Finkle shows us that although most of Jewish South Philadelphia has vanished, what remains continues to inspire Jewish life within the borders of the old neighborhood, and potentially beyond them as well.
National Museum of American Jewish History