Lower East Side and Prohibition

A large immigrant  Jewish population, located on the Lower East Side during Prohibition, included people who attended this synagogue  at 12 Eldridge Street. The synagogue  could serve as a symbol of early resistance to Prohibition.

The Volstead Act defined acceptable liquor under the 18th (“Prohibition”) Amendment. The Act allowed wine for religious purposes.  Wine for Jewish family  services was sold in stores  which sold wine to almost anyone.  The government soon outlawed such stores. Thereafter religious wine was distributed only in reputable synagogues such as this one on Eldridge Street.

Besides this early black market in religious wines, the Lower East Side  was also home to an early liquor syndicate headed by Jewish-American gangsters like Waxey Gordon (Irving Wexler) and Arnold Rothstein. Gordon became an infamous smuggler and bootlegger. Rothstein became a major financier of smugglers and bootleggers and relocated from the Lower East Side to Midtown. His group was known as the Broadway Mob.


[For more see chapter four in  Smugglers, Bootleggers and Scofflaws: Prohibition and NYC  from SUNY Press (2013). The book, less than 200 pages, is scholarly with text, photos, primary documents, bibliography, and index.]

NYC Synagogue Mueum 12 Eldridge