Last Tuesday morning, January 6, 2015. It is snowing steadily, the sky is gray, and the air temperature is quite cold. Why am I standing at 3rd Avenue and East 115th Street in the Manhattan neighborhood of East Harlem? I’m waiting to see one of New York City’s more obscure and more modest annual parades, the Three Kings Day Parade.

I have never attended this parade before, although last year I got stuck in vehicular traffic cause by this parade. And as I waited for my car to be allowed to pass, I noticed a few people leading two camels along the street! I found out what this was about and decided that I had to see the parade the next year. And I did.

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The parade I saw had about 200 participants, some wearing old-style, vaguely Middle Eastern clothing. Two Hispanic radio stations fielded vans. A local museum called El Museo del Barrio had a marching contingent with a banner. A few city politicians marched as well. There was a fake camel, manned by two or three people. And most exciting, there was one float with a live band playing Latino music.


I have attended the Salute to Israel Parade for most of my life, and it is much bigger than this barely slick procession. I have been to a few other parades such as the Puerto Rican Day Parade and the Columbus Day Parade, as well as victory parades for triumphant local sports teams (the Yankees baseball team in the World Series). I even attended a parade commemorating the end of the Gulf War. But this Three Kings Day Parade was a veritable pisher. And to top it off, it celebrates a Christian holiday, the Epiphany. It is particularly popular with Latino groups.

So why did I go, besides hoping to see a camel walk the streets of New York? I was curious. But I also know something about this neighborhood of East Harlem that many other people do not know: in the early 1900s this area was heavily populated by Jews. There were shuls and schools, kosher butchers and bakeries, and other institutions of Jewish life. Today most are gone although a few of the buildings still stand, with considerable changes. There is a former synagogue building on East 112th Street that used to house Ansche Chesed, which moved two more times in the 1900s and finally settled in the Upper West Side neighborhood. (It is still there and is beautiful.) Their East 112th site is now a church. The former Uptown Talmud Torah which had been on East 111th Street, is now a church and school. Why did these Jewish institutions fold? Because the Jews moved out of this neighborhood. Demographic and population shifts.

Yet, East Harlem is still of interest to me. By attending this parade and walking by these two old buildings, that had been Jewish, I pay tribute to the past and present of East Harlem.
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